This epic performance work was inspired by Depression-era photographs and folk songs, as well as by movies about "the road." Its eclectic cast of characters includes Daisy Mae (Magin Schantz), a waitress who takes to the road one day in search of something new to experience; her husband Larry (Dario Tangelson), an inept salesman; a tramp (Aaron Mostkoff Unger) who has a habit of finding pennies from Heaven; Eli (Jason Quarles), a former minister looking for his wife, who absconded with church funds; and Clay Parrish (Robert Saietta), who is also in pursuit of his wife, Clara (Sophia Amieva). Two vocalists (Gina Hirsch and Alanna Medlock), another salesman (the superb Peter Lettre), and a woman on the side of the road (Connie Hall) are also on hand.
While there is a plot of sorts, the more engaging elements of the performance are its quirky character interactions and musical interludes. The first scene is a cross between Samuel Beckett and Quentin Tarantino as two salesmen pass the time, one insisting that the other repeat "the pitch" in a dialogue that becomes increasingly more surreal and violent. Other highlights include an exchange between Eli and Daisy Mae that begins as a case of mistaken identity, makes a detour through deadly confrontation, and ends in sexually charged passion.
The use of period songs is effective, although hardly a new device for shows set in this era. That said, director Fox is a competent musician on an eclectic range of instruments, including banjo, Japanese piano, ukelele, guitar, and mandolin. The harmonies achieved by vocal trio Hall, Hirsch, and Medlock are also quite captivating, and other cast members (most noticeably Lettre) also take turns on various instruments.
There are moments of stunning theatrical power here: a rain of pennies cascades over an open umbrella, a woman sits motionless as her house burns around her. Yet, there are an equal number of moments that don't seem properly thought-out or executed. For example, a pie fight among several of the characters has neither the energy nor the comic timing necessary to make it work. The main problem is that all of the techniques, plot threads, and characters don't add up to a cohesive whole. Unlike The Bomb, in which the various narratives and situations created a powerful cumulative effect, Orphan seems composed of miscellaneous scraps of scenes and ideas that are never fully fleshed out.
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