And as this canny catalyst, Kimball, who is onstage far too infrequently these days, is jaw-droppingly good. In his very first entrance, a gloriously long, gravelly, bourbon-fueled sequence about his roots in a Chicago orphanage, he moves seamlessly from ebullience to confusion, rage and then nostalgia, returning finally to drunken good humor, wheezing and creasing his face with laughter (he does the best, most believable drunk I’ve seen). From there, his portrayal only deepens in range and depth. He has a bantam-weight’s grace, power, and control on stage, and once he’s established his affable leadership in the household, he looks on the brothers with a fascinating blend of curiosity, calculation, indulgence, and affection. Kimball’s artistry is the real deal, and anyone who’s ever thrilled at his work shouldn’t miss him here.
As the orphans confront the realities they have long managed to avoid, Horton’s fine direction lets them teeter vertiginously between identities — child and young adult; brother and jailor; “dead-end kid,” father-figure, and con-artist. As they do, each harrowingly reveals the child — long fatherless — who has nevertheless been father to the man.
ORPHANS | by Lyle Kessler | Directed by Chris Horton | Produced by Mad Horse Theatre Company, at the Hutchins School, in South Portland | through March 30 | 207.747.4148 or madhorse.com
Megan Grumbling can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.