Lyle Kessler's Orphans, now running at Masquerade Theatre, evolves from a very strange premise: Two filthy and odd young men live in a nasty house somewhere on the edge of Philadelphia. Tuna cans, newspapers, clothes and all manner of trash are strewn willy-nilly throughout the place. Turns out they aren't just a couple of dirty frat boys. They've grown up as orphans and apparently never learned how to clean up after themselves. Shy, quiet Phillip (Luther Chakurian) is stuck in the house waiting for his tough-skinned brother, Treat (Xavier Torres), to bring home the bacon. Phillip would rather read or watch The Price Is Right than turn on the vacuum. Likewise, Treat's too busy robbing people of their wallets and watches to do any housecleaning.
So they live like this, in a kind of morose mess, missing their mother and all broken up about something. Then one day Phillip kidnaps a man who will change the brothers' lives. The kidnapped Harold (Terry Jones) knows all about orphans, since he grew up in an orphanage. These days Harold has some badass job that earns him tons of cash, but not a single friend, which Treat discovers when he tries to raise ransom money. So instead of providing them with easy cash, the sympathetic Harold moves in and tries to give the guys an encouraging hand.
In this day and age, the phrase "Come over here, son, I just want to give you an encouraging hand" could mean all kinds of things. Certainly Marcy L. Bannor's direction keeps you off balance; she maintains a dark and bizarre atmosphere, even after Harold spruces up the place, puts Treat to work as his bodyguard and buys Phillip the new shoes he needs. But in the end, it turns out that each man is just so terribly sad about being an orphan that he behaves in some particularly bad ways. And there's nothing strange or unusual or even artful in that.
Masquerade Theatre, 1537 North Shepherd
Through Saturday, September 30
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.