Monday, April 17, 2017

Orphans' Home

I had read only a little bit about Dennis Kelly's Orphans, which is playing at Coal Mine, but from the description about how it was a savage piece about exposing liberal hypocrisies, I was pretty sure it was going to be a downbeat play.  There are certainly some moments where Danny has his liberal fantasies shattered (although he was previously attacked by teens, which comes up over and over again), but more than anything this play serves as a cautionary tale that in a declining U.K. one really shouldn't marry across class lines.  I didn't care much for the play for two reasons, well actually three.

Moderate SPOILERS ahead.

I'm generally tired of watching plays where the acting is great but the play itself weak.  That is certainly the case here, but in this case the fault lies with actor-centred companies that go after flashy, crunchy parts that don't add up to much.  Kelly's style seems very derivative of David Mamet, who likewise spends a lot of time not saying much of anything.  Perhaps people really do talk in these repetitive ways, not driving the plot forward very far forward, but I think it is an empty calorie style of theatre.

Second, I hated the way that the couple's unborn child becomes a pawn in the power struggle between Danny and his wife, Helen.  She starts saying that she is having second thoughts about keeping the child, mostly to drive home the point that Danny won't commit to loyalty to (her) family above all else.  Later she tries to smooth things over by saying that she is having warm feelings about them and this child, but Danny is completely alienated.  It's not so much that I couldn't believe Danny's transformation, but they already have a young son together, and unless the knife rattling that was heard offstage is meant to imply a Medea-like ending, Danny is thoroughly trapped already.

Third, just as Liam's story gets stranger and darker with each telling, the actions that Danny takes (offstage) are not really believable.  I guess Danny is a weaker person than he is made out to be at the beginning, so easily manipulated by taunts that he is a coward that he will cross the line which most audience members would stay well behind.  In general, I am not that interested in plays or movies about how far would you go for family.  There are already a few movies about mothers covering up their children's crimes: Meryl Streep in Before and After and Tilda Swanson in The Deep End.  (Neither of which interest me at all.)  I know for my part, I wouldn't cover up for any of my extended family, and, depending on the nature of the crime, I probably wouldn't even cover up for immediate family.  To some extent, this reflects a somewhat naive and somewhat cynical belief that because I have access to far more resources (i.e. good lawyers) than a working class family, it would be better to go through the system rather than expecting the crimes to go unnoticed and unpunished.  (In my actual interactions with the police, including after a break-in and after being mugged, they were pretty useless, so why I have any faith in "the system" is a very good question.  Liam and Helen know it is stacked against them.)  In some ways, I think that would make for a much better novel -- someone who believes he or she can get a fair shake out of "the system" (for something they have actually done -- none of this Fugitive-style innocent man claptrap) and finding things go very badly indeed once dropped down the rabbit hole of the justice system.

One thing's for certain.  This couple needs to get the heck out of Barnet.

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