Harbinger Theatre Gives Us Andy and His Siblings as its Newest Hit Production
Harbinger Theatre, under the direction of founder Patrick White, continues its inaugural season with the production of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Andy and the Orphans. Currently being presented at the Albany Barn, Andy doubles down on Harbinger’s call to present impactful, challenging, rarely seen (at least in this area) theatre.
Upon the death of their father, siblings Jake and Maggie reunite to figure out how to break the news to their third sibling, Andy, who has Down syndrome and has lived in a group home almost since infancy, that their father has just died, as their mother did just a few months before.
Playwright Ferrentino has stipulated that Andy must be performed by an actor who has Down syndrome. Tom Mooney is a joy to watch as Andy. Mooney is clearly no stranger to the stage. He handles the role with a sincerity and ease that radiates to the audience just how comfortable and natural he is on the stage. Somewhat estranged and dysfunctional brother and sister, Rob Weber and Susan Katz, are familiar faces in the Capital Region theatre scene and Harbinger. The two have brought dysfunction to a new level. They volley back and forth, disagreeing on almost everything, from memories of their youth, to how to “handle” Andy. They offer an almost stereotypical characterization of two siblings with nothing more in common than lineage, who are thrown into a situation of having to work together toward a common goal. They are clearly uncomfortable with one another, the life choices of the other, and their sense of how to proceed onward. White has given them the range to explore their issues with a tautness of obligation, and yet an underpinning of love that their connection affords them.
Also in the cast is Maghen Ryan as Kathy, the appointed caretaker who must accompany Andy from the group home, who will just be there, not interfering. Obviously, nothing is further from the truth. Kathy consistently interjects her opinions and observations from a disembodied, third-person point of view. Ryan’s dry delivery is the perfect counterpoint to the emotional upheaval that is swirling around her.
Olivia Walton and Josh Jenkins are Sarah and Bobby, the parents of the three siblings. We see them in scenes that we come to realize are flashbacks. They set up the story as it progresses. Jenkins is new to the theatre world, having gotten involved by recently taking an acting class. He has certainly found his place on the stage. Immediately at home and comfortable in his surroundings, we look forward to seeing much more from him as he continues to hone his craft. Olivia Walton, relatively new to the Capital Region theatre world, comes with an impressive list of credentials. Her bottled-up emotions percolate under the surface until she is no longer able to contain herself. Walton manages to captivate the audience, making you feel both empathy and sympathy toward her situation and life circumstances.
Director Patrick White has taken some unusual staging liberties that, for the most part, work quite well. The audience is seated facing one another, with the center aisle used for the majority of the action. It is only the scenes between Sarah and Bobby that are placed on the stage. Therein lies the rub. One might have a tendency to get a bit of a stiff neck, depending upon where in the audience you are seated, as White has placed their scenes to the side of the stage rather than centerstage, making you spend quite a bit of time craning your neck. It is a small sacrifice, given the powerful impact and message the play has to offer.
Andy and the Orphans is a message play at its heart. The cast delivers the message with impact, power, and love. The play is both extremely funny and deadly serious, and the two factions work beautifully together. Andy will make you rethink your views on family, Down syndrome, what we think we know, and what reality is. You will laugh with this family, laugh at this family, and come to love them for the flawed humans that are relatable to us all.
Once again, Harbinger Theatre pulls out another thought-provoking hit. What a pleasure it is to have a new company in the area that wants to entertain, make its audience think, and stretch themselves.
Andy and the Orphans runs through October 1 at Albany Barn (on 2nd Street in Arbor Hill). Tickets are $15 for general admission and may be purchased on the Eventbrite website. Unvaccinated theatergoers are required to be masked.