KPBS AIRDATE: November 28, 2003
If you’ve already had enough family drama for this week, why not sample someone else’s relative distress?
At New Village Arts in Carlsbad, there’s a stirring drama that’s both savage and spellbinding. In Lyle Kessler’s “Orphans,” which premiered in 1985, neediness underlies fear, menace and manipulation. Two orphaned brothers live in the city of brotherly love, the older one committing petty theft to support them. Late one night, he staggers home with a well-heeled drunk, and their world turns upside down. The boys find a father-figure, who also happens to be an orphan, and everything changes for the better. For awhile. But not before the play yanks us into a nerve-shattering emotional ride that runs a mile-a-minute and leaves us drained and dazed. Director Kristianne Kurner helms a terrific cast: her husband, Francis Gercke, doing what he does best as the edgy, volatile older brother Treat; and a nervous, wide-eyed Joshua Everett Johnson as the stammering younger brother Phillip, a fearful simpleton who hasn’t been out of the house in years. Jim Chovick is smooth, slick and sensitive as Harold, the fatherly figure who’s a catalyst for growth, pain and disaster. This is just the kind of high-tension wire NVA loves to walk and the company balances it beautifully. This Philadelphia family will make yours look like a fairy tale come true.
Now it might be a fantasy fulfilled for a novice to have a play professionally produced. This is the 19th year of the statewide Plays by Young Writers contest, sponsored by the local Playwrights Project. Usually, the youthful scribes stick to what they know and have experienced. One play this year, by 16 year-old Tyler Moselle, concerns schoolchildren coping with the kidnapping/disappearance of a friend. Another, by 10 year-old Taylor Renteria, is about leaving the nest and learning to fly. But 18 year-old Brandon Alter, a Jewish San Diegan, ventured much further afield. He was fascinated by what it must be like to be a Palestinian suicide bomber. What goes through your head? How do you tell your family? Is this all that’s left when you’ve lost all hope? What are you willing to give up to regain your self-respect? This is the setup for Alter’s brilliant, poetic, intensely dramatic “Forty Miles from Tel Aviv,” which is magnificently directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, gorgeously designed by Beeb Salzer and luminously acted by Diep Huynh and Anahid Shahrik, who play a loving West Bank couple dealing with a desperate, horrific act. The play is well-researched, respectful and provocative. Most striking and stirring, though, it puts a human face on an inconceivable enemy, encouraging empathy which is, perhaps, a first step in the pathway to peace.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
>©2003 Patté Productions Inc.