ALBANY — In the press packet for “Andy and the Orphans,” director Patrick White writes, “This play is the perfect opportunity to offer representation to those with different abilities who are rarely seen onstage.”
The story that playwright Lindsey Ferrentino tells about Andy, a man with Down syndrome, played by Tom Mooney, an actor with Down syndrome, is funny, heart-breaking, chilling, instructive, and superbly mounted by Harbinger Theatre.
Making imaginative use of the stage and floor space at Albany Barn, White leads his cast through 14 scenes about three siblings dealing with the deaths of their elderly parents (Olivia Walton & Josh Jenkins). Ferrentino deftly uses flashbacks to connect episodes of the family history, starting with a hilarious opening moment, that, as the play progresses, turns out to be darker than we first believed.
Perhaps I should say that it’s 60-something siblings, Maggie (Susan Katz) and Jake (Rob Weber) who are dealing: Andy’s experience of the family is unique.
Maggie and Jake have come to New York from Chicago and California, respectively, to inform younger brother Andy, who lives in a group home, of the deaths. At the airport Jake and Maggie squabble, often resurrecting old complaints, like his embrace of Christianity despite the family’s being Jewish. Snarky comments fly, followed by a hug.
When the duo goes to retrieve Andy for a memorial service on Long Island, they are told by his caregiver, Kathy (Maghen Ryan), that she must accompany him. They balk. Rules are rules, so this unusual quartet takes a road trip that is alternately riotous and touching.
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It’s evident, of course, that the person who knows the most about Andy is Kathy, a plainspoken and compassionate young woman with her own burdens who, about two-thirds of the way through the play, tells Maggie and Jake more of Andy’s history than they knew, and it’s horrifying. (Too heavy-handed? Perhaps. I think Ferrentino could have trusted her work everywhere else to make her point.)
And the point is, I think, that Maggie’s bemoaning the fact that she is now an orphan is laughable compared to the fact that, having been warehoused by his parents as a young child, Andy has always been an orphan. In fact, his real family consists of Kathy and other institutional aides as well as the characters in all of the movies he watches and whose famous lines he repeats: “Make my day.” “You can’t handle the truth.” “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.” Movies have given him the language of living his parents didn’t.
With Nick Nealon’s set and lighting (operated by Sam Mann) design, Joshua Horowitz’s sound palette (though in a couple of spots a little too loud for the dialogue), and Lauren D’Annibale’s stage management and costume design, the storytelling is vivid and seamless.
White’s pitch-perfect direction allows the script’s cockamamie dimensions to flourish, right from that opening scene played so swiftly and delightfully by Walton and Jenkins, each of whom captures the pathos later on.
Mooney reveals the heart, soul, and sometimes wicked sense of humor of a man who depends on — parroting Blanche — “the kindness of strangers.”
Yet he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. A winning performance.
The conversational rhythm between veterans Katz and Weber is spot-on: these two adults were definitely kids together, from their expressive gestures to their kvetching to their shared justification for how the family has treated Andy.
And Maghen Ryan is moving and hilarious as the no-nonsense Kathy, a pregnant woman with a dumb-ass boyfriend who savvily assesses people and situations because survival depends on it. Her monologue at Burger King is a bit of acting magic.
Aileen Burke is the producer of a show you should not miss.
‘Andy and the Orphans’
WHERE: Harbinger Theatre, Albany Barn, 56 Second St., Albany
WHEN: Through Oct. 1
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 518.779.2803, or [email protected]