In the beginning was the Word

The Orphans

Horse Trade Theater Group
The St. Marks Theater
94 St. Marks Place (between 1st Avenue & Avenue A) (206-1515 or
Non-union production (Wednesdays at 8 p.m.; closes Oct. 23)
Review by Jenny Sandman

The Orphans are a collection of improv actors -- Lauren Antler, Lindsay Curcio, Patrick Dall'occhio, Will Koehl, Marci Lacenere, Caprice Royal, Martin Verni, and John Thies -- who style themselves a comedy troupe. Their show is a strange crossbreed of improv theatre and comedy, an hour of skits based upon one word supplied by the audience.

On the night reviewed, the audience was, well, small, and the word supplied -- "all-encompassingly" -- was not really a word. But grammatical niceties didn't stop The Orphans, they took the word and ran with it, condensing it to "all-encompassing" at some point in the evening. They managed to work the word into most of the skits. Perhaps they could have made better use of the word, but then, it was a difficult word.

Many of the sketches were revisited and expanded upon at some point in the show, freshening up what might otherwise have been a dull evening. It was revealing to revisit a sketch a second or third time - it created the illusion of backstory and a through-line, bringing a homeliness and stability to the group of skits. The best sketches, in fact, were those that were fleshed out. Some of the sketches were a bit lackluster, but they did a competent job of tying them together and of wrapping them up.

There were three groups of skits that formed the main stories of the evening. The first was about an older, WASP-ie couple on vacation. He wants children, she doesn't, children being such an all-encompassing responsibility. Later in the show, she gives birth; the husband is so ecstatic he begins singing a song called "I'm an All-Encompassing Man." It was actually a pretty decent song -- not everyone can rhyme on cue. The second involved two guys freezing to death in the Alaskan wilderness. They find some rat poison in a cupboard, and, in sheer desperation, eat it. Rather than dying a slow, painful death, the men begin hallucinating. Later, one of the two men appears in a sketch about a homeopathic ER run by two women. While one of the women explains the all-encompassing natural cycle, the other encourages him to talk, and they tap into a repressed memory of his deserting his best friend in the Alaskan hinterland, dying on a drifting ice floe. The third, and most original, revolved around a magician, Tiffany the All-Encompassing, and her mysterious Chocolate Milk Trick.

The Orphans, while not the most polished of improv groups, are nevertheless obviously talented and resourceful. It's not often that basement black-box theatre, with no props, no set, no sound, street clothes, and a minimum of lighting, can be so consistently intriguing. With a little practice, they could become a force to reckon with in the comedy world. Until then, they are a theatrical diamond in the rough, worth checking out for the fresh surprises in every performance.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Jenny Sandman