Times Theater Critic

Lyle Kessler's "Orphans," first seen in 1983 at Actors for Themselves, has opened at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, to such good reviews that New York may be the next stop.

Kessler's play concerns two brothers living rather spookily together in the old family house. A mysterious stranger becomes the "father" they both need, and they rejoin the world. The sibling theme reminded the Chicago Sun-Times' Lloyd Sachs of Sam Shepard's "True West." Sachs found "Orphans" less reckless and cutting, but thought that Kessler's "patient, minor-chord approach reaps considerable rewards all its own. Zany and touching, (the play) makes us care about the characters almost as much as the playwright does."

The Chicago Tribune's Richard Christiansen seemed less impressed with the script than with the performances (Terry Kinney and Kevin Anderson as the brothers, John Mahoney as the stranger), but called the combination "electric."

Variety found that Kessler's script occasionally got "lost in its search for the Big Idea," but thought it in general "a play with scenes of haunting poignancy and with electric dialogue throughout." It added that the show "is being widely bruited about as a candidate for Broadway."

As part of the exchange program that brought Alan Bates and "A Patriot for Me" to the Ahmanson, London is seeing "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" with Charlton Heston. The only review we've seen--John Peter's in the Sunday Times--disparaged the play but endorsed Heston's performance:

"Heston's Captain Queeg looks rock-like--it being characteristic of rocks that they don't change much. But the last few minutes of the trial are a revelation. Heston's face and body crumble, and he presents a chilling portrait of spiritual ruin. This is an actor of stature. Why has he been wasting himself in all those dreadful films?"

Probably the most notorious bowdlerization of Shakespeare is Nahum Tate's happy-ending version of "King Lear." This is the one where Lear regains his strength, defeats his evil daughters and marries off the virtuous one, Cordelia, to Edgar--all this in the interest of "regularity and probability."

Don't laugh. Tate's "Lear" held sway over the original from the 1680s to the 1830s. It has rarely been performed in earnest since, but it recently turned up in a new adaptation by the Riverside Shakespeare Company in New York.

"Neither Tate's waywardness nor an opening-night lighting failure could deter the eager actors from charting a path through the pseudo-Shakespeare," reported Mel Gussow of the New York Times. Wouldn't Tate's "Lear" be a natural for our own Shakespeare Society of America?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Sir Michael Redgrave (1908-1985): "The only actors who escape question are those who escape notice."

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