This month brings a wonderful production of “Orphans,” a play written by Lyle Kessler in 1983, produced and performed by a loose gathering of extremely talented theatre folk in Pittsburgh, at a new theatre in an old space. Aftershock Theatre, a vintage three-story Slovenian social center built in 1911, will house the shows on 57th street in Lawrenceville. While initially shocking to the eye for how seemingly run-down it is, it’s easy to look past the decades of dust to see the character this massive building still has. Not to worry, however, as my first visit to the space was weeks before opening night, and with the hard work of the entire cast and crew to clean and make the space presentable, you will be nothing short of endeared by the revival of such a historic landmark in its community.
My friend Sophia Marshall, acting stage manager for the production, introduced this show to me, and upon arrival I was welcomed by the small cast of the show, as well as the exuberant and warm-hearted director, Ingrid Sonnichsen, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor. The cast consists of Max Pavel, Dylan Marquis Meyers, and Ken Bolden. Dylan and Max play the brothers in the show, one a younger, uneducated shut in and the other a tough lovin’ delinquent who supports them both through petty crime, respectively. Ken plays the mysterious and rich businessman with whom the brothers get into some trouble. The trio’s acting roles resemble the real life dynamic between the men, with Max and Dylan being former students of Ken’s while attending the University of Pittsburgh in the class of 2014. Max explained how he and Dylan frequently shared a tough brotherly love between one another, with Ken being very much a father figure in their college years. Max said that with how hard the script hit him and how much he connected with it, he knew after talking with Ken that this would be a very special experience, yet didn’t expect it to be a long one. “I just thought it would be a weekend thing we would do, but it snowballed into something pretty big.”
There are a few noteworthy points that make this show special. First, the show is an Equity member-produced show, meaning the artists are responsible for the funding and are not sponsored by a production company. This is different than most mainstream productions, as a theatre or production company backs them and are not responsible for anything other than what their role suggests. For “Orphans,” each cast and crewmember is essentially responsible for funding, marketing, and producing. Second, the cast prepared for the show with a form of learning called Active Analysis, taught to them by Cotter Smith, an actor who has played roles in Netflix’s Mindhunter and Rules of Seconds. By practicing a series of what are called etudes, the actors were able to learn the play at their own pace and develop a very detailed and incredible performance. During my visit I had the privilege of watching Max and Dylan perform their three etudes, and then the full first scene, and I can confidently say attendees are in for something very special.
These etudes that the actors practice are a series of trial runs through scenes, each with a restriction. The first etude is a run through void of any dialogue or sound, but with constant movement around the space. The second etude, also with constant movement, allows the actors to run with key words or phrases as well as expressive sounds. Finally, the third etude is a run through of the scene with full dialogue in the actors’ own vernacular. This rehearsal technique allows the actors to make mistakes, yet also figure out what “mistakes” work well enough to include in their performances. With each etude, the actors find something that worked better than before, which ensures not every performance will be exactly the same.
The play is inherently masculine, as it is written by a man, acted by men, and typically directed by men. With a female directing this production, however, the audience will get a performance more emotionally well rounded and dynamic than if a man directed it, as Ingrid is able to give a unique and feminine outlook with her direction to add to the performances by the men. This is just another aspect of the show for audiences to look forward to when attending.
Opening night was May 31st, however the show runs weekends through June 23rd at Aftershock Theatre on 57th Street in Lawrenceville. The lobby area of the theatre will have bars, a pop-up bookshop by Classic Line Books, and live music prior to select shows. For show times and ticket information, go to orphans.ticketleap.com/aftershock. This is going to be an amazing show, so be sure to check it out one of the many shows running this month! Show times are also listed on Moxie’s event calendar.