If the term “orphans” conjures up those adorable tykes from the musical Annie, playwright Lindsey Ferrentino asks us to adjust our sights and consider the more common situation of adults whose parents have died, leaving them with clean-up chores, both physical and emotional.
That is how it is in Ferrentino’s Andy and the Orphans for siblings Maggie (Patti Gardner) and Jake (Jeffrey Bruce), whose father has recently died, just months after their mother passed away, as so often happens with long-married couples. That leaves the brother-sister duo parentless and motivates them to fly to New York – she from Chicago, he from California – to not only hold a memorial service but, more distressingly, to break the news to their younger, Down syndrome-afflicted brother, Andy.
Warehoused by his parents in a state-run facility since childhood, Andy is a handful. Outspoken, he frequently spouts lines from iconic films, learned at his menial job at the local movie theater.
Anchoring the area premiere production at Boca Raton’s Primal Forces is a remarkable performance by Edward Barbanell, an Equity actor who originated the role of Andy at New York’s Roundabout Theater last year. A skilled performer with a twinkle in his eye, his own Down condition brings an authenticity to the play and, as Andy, an obstinance that frustrates his well-meaning brother and sister.
They arrive to take Andy with them to Montauk for an impromptu memorial service – at a Chinese restaurant – for their father. What they did not figure on, however, was Kathy, a crusty yet softhearted nurse at Andy’s impersonal group home, who insinuates herself into the family’s road trip. And as played by Primal Forces veteran Jacqueline Laggy, she all but takes over the production.
Then there are Sarah (Amber Lynn Benson) and Bobby (Joey de la Rua), a married couple who bicker their way through the opening scene at a communications retreat. They appear in a few scenes together, gradually dealing with their own burden, but playwright Ferrentino strings us along for much of the 80-minute evening before revealing how they relate to Andy’s story.
Andy and his plight hover over the production, but much of the play – and most of its considerable comedy – are supplied by Maggie and Jake and their neuroses. Gardner comes appealingly unhinged as a usually controlling divorcee and Bruce amuses as a finicky, short-tempered health food nut.
Andy and the Orphans is a bit more mainstream than most Primal Forces fare, but director Keith Garsson demonstrates both a sensitivity and comic acuity that heightens the play’s ultimate impact. Scenic designer Tim Bennett deals well with the Sol Theatre’s problematic, wide-and-shallow venue, splitting it in two side-by-side playing spaces, each with its own revolving stage.
Ferrentino reportedly based the Down syndrome character on her own aunt. Her much fictionalized account thoughtfully considers the dilemma of dealing with a family member unable to care for himself, without it ever feeling like an issue play.
ANDY AND THE ORPHANS, Primal Forces, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, Through Sunday, Dec. 8. $40-45. Call 866-811-4111 or visit primalforces.com.