April 18, 2013
Set in a run-down house in North Philadelphia, Orphans is the tale of two orphaned brothers, Treat and Phillip. Treat is forced to assume the role of parent for the simple-minded and reclusive Phillip and, with no rules or parental guidance, gets into thieving and street hustling. Things change when Treat kidnaps Harold, a wealthy thug who takes charge of their lives.
Philadelphia-born playwright Lyle Kessler began writing plays in the 1980s, which he set in the gritty neighborhood where he grew up. In Orphans, the character of Harold constantly refers to "dead end kids," which is a running cinematic reference to a group of young actors from New York who appeared in Sidney Kingsley's Broadway play Dead End and in the Samuel Goldwyn Hollywood film of the same name.
Orphans had its world premiere at Hollywood's Matrix Theater in 1983 before Steppenwolf Theatre Company co-founder Gary Sinise directed a 1985 production. After its Chicago run, Orphans transferred to off-Broadway's Westside Arts Theatre in 1985, where it opened to stunning reviews. Kessler adapted his play into a 1987 film starring Albert Finney, Matthew Modine and Kevin Anderson (from the Steppenwolf production).
Frederick Zollo, Robert Cole, The Shubert Organization, Orin Wolf, Lucky VIII, Scott M. Delman, James P. MacGilvray, Stylesfour Productions.
—Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Revival of a Play
Originally, one major character didn’t die at the end of Orphans, but Kessler rewrote the ending in Chicago more than 25 times. "I must have been resisting the death unconsciously because I loved the character," Kessler wrote in an essay for Broadway.com. "But when that happened, I actually discovered the play."