By Sandi Durell
One of theater’s most lauded playwrights, John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), puts forth his own life in Prodigal Son (as author and director), along with 11 of his plays that will be produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. Is Prodigal Son cathartic, narcissistic ? Both.
Confusion as a teenager isn’t all that unusual, however, seeking answers and acceptance to the turmoil that plays out in an existential mind, can be torture. And so, we visit with Jim Quinn, (Shanley’s young rude, inquisitive self) played by an incredibly talented Timothee Chalamet (featured on Homeland, making his stage debut), who is spending two years at the Thomas More School in New Hampshire. Quinn is plagued with questions about mores, people, power and morality – – his brilliant mind never resting. Quinn doesn’t quite fit the mold, but has been rescued from his Bronx homeland in the mid 60s at the age of 15 (1965-1968) by Alan Hoffman (a not quite suited for the role Robert Sean Leonard), a lit teacher at the school (with a secret of his own) who thinks he can be Quinn’s savior.
Shanley’s description of himself during those years is of someone “rather violent, a bit delusional…” – – his idealistic heroes: Rafael Sabatini, Siegfried Sassoon. The headmaster, Carl Schmitt (Chris McGarry) sees Quinn’s potential and offers him a scholarship, albeit Quinn’s grades aren’t up to par, telling Hoffman “He’s the most interesting mess we have this year.” Quinn has a penchant for lying, stealing, drinking and an obsession with the Nazis. He also has his own reasoning as to why Jesus was murdered.
It is Schmitt’s wife, Louise (Annika Boras) also a teacher at the school, who sympathizes with Quinn, or better yet aiding and abetting his bad behavior, as his poetry teacher.
In the fray is Quinn’s roommate Austin (David Potters), a rather homely young man who looks up to Quinn but is also the recipient of his wild outbursts.
Santo Loquasto has created rows of white birch trees with a small vision in the background of the Thomas More Prep School, very graceful and telling, as scenic furnishings move in and out.
Chalamet is a talent to be noted and watched.
Prodigal Son runs thru March 27th Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, 131 West 55 St. 212 399-3000,. Running time 1 hr. 35 min.(no intermission) www.nycitycenter.org *Photos: Joan Marcus