Family ties suffocate in Coal Mine Theatre's season finale
Presented by Coal Mine Theatre
Written by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Leora Morris
Coal Mine Theatre closes another strong season this month with a nail-biting new production of Dennis Kelly's 2009 play Orphans, a tense exploration of violence in London following the 2005 bombings. The action could very well be set in the UK today, however, given the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and in the wake of Brexit.
Orphans opens with a disquieting scene: Helen (Diana Bentley) and her husband Danny (David Patrick Flemming) are having dinner alone (their five-year-old son Shane is with Danny's mother) when they are suddenly interrupted by Helen's brother Liam (Tim Dowler-Coltman) standing in the doorway covered in another person's blood. As they try to get Liam to reveal what happened (he was helping a young lad who had been attacked), it slowly becomes clear that he was more involved than he initially lets on, and the attack on the victim was racially motivated. Liam's visit leads to fierce discussions about family—Helen is constantly shifting between allegiance to her troubled brother who she has a history of protecting and her devotion to Danny, Shane and their unborn child. Danny is also torn, does he help Liam in a time of crisis whether or not it's the right thing to do?
Kelly's script leaves much to the imagination as the characters speak in a deliberately roundabout manner, often leaving out words, and repeating dialogue to get their point across. There's "a bit of...you know" trailed here and there. Nothing is explicitly spelled out, until the final scenes, and by that time we are fully entrenched in the plot as accomplices.
Leora Morris' production is steadily paced, keeping the audience hanging right up to the end. Bentley and Dowler-Coltman's raw performances paint a compelling picture of orphans sticking together through a wretched experience in the care system. Should we condemn Helen and Liam? Feel sorry for them? Flemming is frighteningly good as Danny, the voice of reason, and we watch breathlessly as he struggles to prove his loyalty.
Orphans runs until April 30, 2017 at Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Ave, Toronto). Visit coalminethatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.