The myth of the wild child has long tickled the popular fancy, with artists drawn to stories of children raised by animals in the wild. Of course, children also can be raised by beasts far closer to home--in domestic dungeons, deprived of stimulation, education and the flow of human society that defines us as moral, adult entities.
Yet, with a little freedom, repressed minds can explode into vibrant consciousness. With humor and shattering emotion, Lyle Kessler's "Orphans" at International City Theatre dramatizes this amazing resilience of the human spirit, as well as the universal need for love and familial connection.
Phillip (Pedro Balmaceda) is the wild child in question, kept closely confined in his Philadelphia row house (magnificently realized in Dan Reeder's ramshackle set) since his mother's death some years ago. His captor? His bullying brother, Treat (Joshua Hutchinson), a career thief who has convinced Phillip that death awaits him outside the house. However, when Treat abducts Harold (Barry Lynch), hoping for a fat ransom, his hermetically sealed system is irreparably punctured. Far from being a helpless victim, Harold, himself raised an orphan, emerges as a mysterious patriarch, the long-absent father figure who will transform the brothers' lives.
In an inspired staging, director Elina deSantos plumbs the mordancy and pathos in Kessler's drama with consummate naturalism and skill. As the three drifting souls searching for some larger meaning in their fettered existences, Balmaceda, Hutchinson and Lynch deliver some of the finest performances in memory, equally balanced in their brilliance and depth.
"Orphans," International City Theatre, at Clark Street and Harvey Way, Long Beach. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 5. $22. (562) 938-4128. Running time: 2 hours.