Orphans' features excellent actors, adept direction 

right, so a hardy hail to Carpenter Square Theatre for opening 2009 with a well-acted, thought-provoking production of Lyle Kessler's "Orphans." Let's hope this production portends things to come.

"Orphans" takes a naturalistic look at the hard lives of two brothers and a mysterious stranger who insinuates himself into their world. Treat is a smalltime mugger who takes care of his younger brother, Phillip, a savant of sorts with an encyclopedic knowledge of old movie actors and household products. Treat and Phillip were orphaned when they were young and now eke out an existence in their shabby North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Treat brings home Harold, who seems to be a successful businessman in a three-piece suit and alligator shoes, carrying a leather briefcase filled with stock and bond certificates. Treat's objective is kidnapping and holding Harold for ransom, but he's such a bumbler that he does just about everything wrong. Unfortunately for Treat, Harold is not a good subject for kidnapping. For one thing, no one wants him back. But Harold, an orphan himself, is not what he at first appears to be. Actually, he's on the lam after having some unexplained trouble with the Chicago mob. Harold seems to be trying to go legit, however, and at this point, "Orphans" becomes a morality play.

Although by no means a great play, "Orphans" is a compelling drama into which Kessler has injected a fair amount of humor. The script is a serviceable vehicle for three actors to show their stuff, and the Carpenter Square production has three old pros "? well, two old pros and one young pro "? who nail it.

Ben Hall as Harold, Wil Rogers as Treat and Matthew Charnay as Phillip "? all excellent "? work together with the precision and grace of ballet dancers or a well-practiced basketball team and give full-throated, yet nuanced performances.

Directed by Rhonda Clark, "Orphans" invites speculation about what happens eventually to Treat and Phillip. Kessler leaves the question unanswered for the audience, and good for him for doing so. Has Harold reformed the boys? Or will Treat revert to his old life as a petty mugger?

We skeptics choose the latter. You can see "Orphans" and decide for yourself. "?Larry Laneer

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