Reviewed by James Karas
Helen and Danny live in a nice apartment and are having dinner with some white wine. They have one child but have reason to celebrate: Helen is pregnant again.
That is the opening scene of Orphans by Dennis Kelly now playing in a terrific production at the Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto.
The happy scene is quickly broken with the entry of Helen’s brother Liam who is covered with blood. He speaks quickly, nervously, in broken sentences in a thick Cockney accent that reveals more than he says. He saw an injured man on the street, he tells his sister and his brother-in-law and he tried to help him but they start asking questions, a lot of questions, and we start doubting Liam’s version of events.
The plot of Kelly’s brilliant 2009 play shifts like the proverbial quicksand as the dynamics among the three characters change. Liam, played superbly by Tim Dowler-Coltman, looks for support from his sister, is beaten down with questioning, seethes with violence, takes the upper hand and we slowly get the revelation of a racist and indeed a monster. An admirable performance by Dowler-Coltman.
Diana Bentley and Tim Dowler-Coltman in Orphans. Photo: Shaun Benson
Diana Bentley as Helen goes through a number of transformations as the sister of Liam. The two were raised as orphans after the tragic death of their parents and they need to stand by each other. She tries to protect Liam but is compelled to keep asking questions about the incident with the injured stranger. Her husband Danny appears like a reserved gentleman but is he that or a coward? Again we have the shifting sand and the continuing revelations. Bentley gives a finely controlled and nuanced performance.
David Patrick Flemming as Danny appears reserved and gentlemanly, the type of character that may be described in the old phrase as having a stiff upper lip. There is more to him than that and we see him as well go through different phases as the situation unfolds. A splendid performance.
The set by Brian Dudkiewicz in the tiny theatre (it is really a converted store with about eighty seats at each end of the space with a playing area in the middle) consists of a couch and a table and chairs with a simple bookshelf. It looks pleasant enough for a young couple.
At an hour and a half with no intermission, with numerous changes in the relations among the three main characters, the play presents considerable difficult in maintaining a taut pace and unfailing performances. The credit for that goes to director Leona Morris for delivering a gem of a production.
The fourth character is the play Shane, the couple’s young boy, played by Cody Black.
When we have become fully aware of Liam’s character and get a glimpse of the world or at least his version of the world, we and Helen and Danny have seen something dreadful. Helen’s reaction goes from the celebration of her pregnancy in the opening scene to considering abortion at the end.
An outstanding night at the theatre.