‘Orphan Train’ mostly stays on track

It’s difficult to resist the nonfictional premise of Aurand Harris’ “The Orphan Train,” now at the Rainbow Company. It’s 1914. New York City has an epidemic problem with unwanted children living on the streets. The New York Children’s Aid Society organizes a train trip to take the kids across the country in search of loving homes. Some of the children are abused. Some are rejected outright. A few are lucky enough to find a nurturing environment.

The script gives us seven different stories chronicling very different experiences. Mary (Molly Rautenstrauch), for example, is taken in by the very stern Mrs. Herndon (Jackie Shick) who wants nothing more than a slave. Frankie (Kiersten Sawyer) survives on the streets by pretending to be a tough guy. Not only is “he” not tough, he’s no guy either. Still, though, she manages to fool a loving couple (the first-rate Ann-Marie Kaufman and Michael Button) into adopting her. Lucky (the magnetic Randy Messaoudi) is a vulnerable knife-wielding thug who tries to pretend he needs no one. He’s unlucky enough to be believed and rejected.

Director Brian Kral does well by the material when he doesn’t overstate the pathos. Often, the children seem like innocent victims. Just as often, though, they seem too aware of how pitiful they’re supposed to appear. Kral has a particular problem with the adults. He reduces most of them to character types.

But the director comes up with entertaining visual images. He makes clever use of the small audience area. And he elicits some genuine performances by actors who seem caught up in the material. (Among them: Koby Garcia as a kid with a bum leg and Delancey Prince who’s ridiculed by classmates for speaking with a heavy Irish accent.)

Haley Severance’s sound design goes a long way in establishing place. It feels like an unseen character.

This production probably should make young audience members feel grateful that they’re in a much better position — at least let’s hope so — than the children they’re observing. “The Orphan Train” suggests that growing up with even an overly strict mom and/or dad has its advantages.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas NV 89125.

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