Like going to a well-reviewed famous restaurant and having a mediocre, hard to digest meal while at the same time being shortchanged. That’s PRODIGAL SON – the newest play from our award winning “man of letters” John Patrick Shanley.
At least that’s who Mr. Shanley envisioned becoming while attending the Thomas More Preparatory School in New Hampshire circa 1965-68 where Jim Quinn (Timothee Chalamet) standing in for the full-of-himself playwright at age 15 tells his tale of woe from “a room in hell.”
Despite poor grades in Catholic High School this guy from the Bronx gets a scholarship – the details of how and why are murky. His mom pays room and board for him to attend this prestigious school run and founded by Carl Schmitt (Chris McGarry) who has second thoughts about Jim Quinn – as he lies, drinks, steals, beats up on fellow classmates and basically is “the lost one” and his own worst enemy. He also does not believe in God.
Carl’s wife Louise (Annika Boras) is one of Quinn’s one on one teachers – teaching The Wasteland – T.S. Eliot. Despite Quinn’s penchant for poetry (featuring Nazis) he detests The Wasteland. But Louise sees literary potential despite the obvious problems and helps him. Is it his underlying intelligence or that he’s handsome? Or something else?
Alan Hoffman (Robert Sean Leonard) another teacher has philosophical discussions over chess and is plagued by the same questions with an out of the blue result.
Austin (David Potters) Quinn’s room mate adds an iota of humor briefly bringing to mind a scene straight out of a Neil Simon play.
All this moves along at a snail’s pace under John Patrick Shanley’s direction as the lovely Santo Loquasto sets slide on and off surrounded by thin naked trees that are as reed thin as Mr. Chalamet; lit beguilingly by Natasha Katz with original mood music supplied by Paul Simon in what could be a underdeveloped draft that could have been written by the 15 year old Shanley. It’s like watching paint dry. Dull.
There is a secret that Mr. and Mrs. Quinn share – another out of the blue moment.
Quinn sees himself as entitled. He needs everything immediately. Wants to change his name. Wants everybody to help him but keeps on doing everything to get himself expelled. What a waste.
Mr. Chalamet is very good in the role but before he is knighted as the next newest rising star I’d like to see him in a better play. The others do their best with characters that aren’t fully realized. You may leave this ninety minute – no intermission play – feeling underfed.
At NY City Center Stage 1 – a Manhattan Theatre Club production.
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