Rising star Leo B. Ramsey burns up the stage opposite gifted teen newcomer Breaker Novogratz and dynamic stage-and-screen vet Ray Abruzzo in Lyle Kessler’s powerful three-hander Orphans, now thrilling and devastating audiences in equal measure at Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre.

Ramsey stars as 20something petty thief Treat, supporting himself and younger brother Phillip (Novogratz) on whatever cash, watches, or jewelry he can intimidate unwitting strangers to fork over, and woe betide anyone who puts up a fight.

Orphaned since the death of the brothers’ single mother, Dad having flown the coop years before, Treat has made sure never again to be abandoned by keeping Phillip a virtual prisoner in their rundown North Philly apartment, having convinced the apparently illiterate, somewhere-on-the-spectrum youth that outside equals danger.

Then, one night Treat returns home with a drunken stranger named Harold (Abruzzo), a Chicago hood whose briefcase filled with stocks and bonds convinces the older brother he’d be the perfect victim to hold for ransom.

And this is just the beginning of Orphans’ thoroughly compelling, utterly unpredictable ride.

World Premiered here in L.A. at the Matrix back in 1983 before playing Chicago’s Steppenwolf, transferring to off-Broadway, and finally making its Broadway debut in 2013, Orphans has become a favorite vehicle both for young actors on the rise and for experienced Goodfella types, and with good reason.

Roles don’t get any juicier than Treat, Phillip, and Harold, and producers Wolfgang Novogratz and Aquila Morong Studio have hit pay dirt in their Lounge Theatre stars, director Brad Barnes eliciting from three three absolutely stunning performances.

I compared Ramsey to a young Edward Norton when I discovered him earlier this year in his Star-Making Performance Scenie-winning star turn in This Is Our Youth, and if anything he is even more sensational the second time round, his Treat as filled with bravado as the loose canon is aching with need.

Novogratz may have just turned seventeen, but he commands the stage with the presence, charisma, and acting chops of a seasoned pro, resisting all temptation to overplay Phillip’s “special needs” and leaving one to wonder if he is childlike by nature or by nurture (or lack of it).

Finally, in a role previously brought to life by such greats as Alec Baldwin, Albert Finney, and John Mahoney, Abruzzo gives all three a run for their money in his effortless star turn as a tough guy who may just be as emotionally in need as the two orphans for whom (spoiler ahead) he becomes an unexpected father figure.

Scenic designer Adam Rowe makes terrific use of the brick-walled Lounge Theatre stage, giving Treat and Phillip precisely the clutter-filled apartment (kudos to prop master Trish Gallagher Glenn and set decorator Maria Nay) they might have called home, and Tiffany White Stanton costumes all three characters to perfection. David Svengalis’s lighting ups the drama every step of the way as does his mix of indoor-outdoor sounds and Mark Tschanz’s mood-establishing original music.

David Rowden scores points for his fight direction. Casting is by Donna Morong, CSA. Svengalis is stage manager. Max Montel is associate producer.

As oft produced as Orphans has been these past thirty-four years, I’d somehow managed to miss it till now. The gripping, moving production now playing at the Lounge has made it well worth the wait.

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Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard. Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 3, 2017

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