by Lynn on March 5, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest theatre, The Howland Company in association with Crow’s Theatre, plays until March 12, 2023.

Written and directed by Paolo Santalucia

Set by Mark Hockin

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound by Jacob Lin

Cast: Michael Ayres

Veronica Hortiguella

Cameron Laurie

Dan Mousseau

Nancy Palk

Rick Roberts

Hallie Saline

Meghan Swaby

Shauna Thompson

Jeff Yung

Prodigal is about a wayward young man who has come home to his rich, privileged family, after being cut off from any inheritance. The fallout from his return is explosive. The writing is sharp, complex and challenging about: privilege, redemption, forgiveness and responsibility. The production is gripping.

The Story. Prodigal was written and directed by Paolo Santalucia. He has written a terrific play about privilege and wealth, proving that money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can make misery palatable, sort of. The title references the prodigal son, from the Bible: a son leaves his family but is given his share of the inheritance and squanders it. He then returns home looking for redemption etc. His brother, who has remained and been dutiful, is now upset by this turn of events, is jealous of his brother and his treatment and finds it unfair.

Rowan Clark is a very rich man about to have one of his dreams come true. He’s getting a prestige job. His wife Marilyn is supportive and ecstatic.  But there is trouble lurking. Rowan and Marilyn’s profligate son Edmund has been cut out of the family and he left, although his father sent him money every month.  Edmund led a dissolute life of drugs.  Then the money was cut off so Edmund has returned to have a reckoning. He arrives on the evening when his brother Henry and Henry’s fiancée Sadie are having their engagement party.

Henry is the brother who stayed, was responsible and is angered at Edmund’s return. There are all sorts of revelations that change each relationship and the precarious balance of power in that family. While Rowan appears to be generous and wants to do good by helping the brother of his personal assistant, his reasons are more troubling than altruistic. There is also a daughter, Violet, who seems to have been forgotten after her two brothers get all the attention. She is accomplished, able, responsible and has scruples. But it’s Henry who is embraced and consulted by his father Rowan.  

The Production. The production begins with a Preacher (a convincing Shauna Thompson) talking about the parable of the Prodigal son as well as redemption and forgiveness, subjects that occupy a lot of our consciousness. The Preacher also begins Act II with an etymological discourse on “The Prodigal” complete with reference to the word “prodigious.” I think that’s one of the play’s beauties. Mark Hockin has designed a set that is spare but beautifully illuminates the rich lifestyle of Rowan Clark and his family. The design of the flooring looks like it’s marble. There is a small round table stage right with three plush chairs; an island with a sink stage left, and up from that is a white wall with a door that looks like it will lead to other parts of the house. In fact, that is the door to the large fridge. Love that surprise. One doesn’t need more to present the rarified world of that family.

The engagement party is going on in the house. The two caterers, Pauline (a confident, proud Meghan Swaby) and Quentin (an anxious, harried Jeff Yung), Pauline’s partner in business and life. Pauline is the chef and Quentin is the waiter and perhaps public face of the company. Playwright Paolo Santalucia does a beautiful job of delineating the classes/social strata here. Pauline does not like working for these rich people. Someone sent back a perfectly made steak saying it wasn’t cooked properly. Pauline was blamed. Is it because she’s a woman? Is it because she’s Black (although it’s never referenced—Meghan Swaby, the actress, is Black)? In any case, Pauline reads the situation perfectly. She gives the steak back to Quentin to (re)-present it to the ‘offended’ person saying the steak is now properly cooked, although Pauline has done nothing to it. We can hear the squeals of glee at the now ‘perfectly’ perfect steak. Pauline knows ‘phony’ when she sees it.  

Sadie, (Veronica Hortiguela) is the very stylish bride-to-be of Henry. Sadie is an influencer who always wants to take pictures for her site.  As Sadie, Veronica Hortiguela is ingratiating, smiling, and a bit demanding. She wants to take a picture of Pauline who is prickly at the notion. Words are said and Sadie is offended. She references the latest self-care process and her therapist who helps her cope with what we might consider every day life issues, like disappointment.

In Sadie, Paolo Santalucia has written a deliciously annoying character, so self-absorbed and fragile, one is tempted to cover one’s eyes in disbelief. But wait. Santalucia is not a sloppy, facile writer. He is nuanced, subtle and detailed in writing deeply complex, flawed characters who are therefore, hugely alive.  Sadie surprises later on. Veronica Hortiguela illuminates the many and various aspects to Sadie’s character, and one of them is that she is not as flakey and frivolous as initially thought. Hortiguela peels away the layers of her character little by little, fooling us to believe one thing, and then changing up and revealing something else.

Her fiancé, Henry (a buttoned down, appropriately tense Cameron Laurie), has something to prove at all times. He is a bit of a hot-head because he has to show his father he is in charge and can make things happen. It’s a lovely performance that in its way breaks the heart. There is also Henry’s and Edmund’s sister, Violet (Hallie Seline). With these two brothers fighting for attention of their father, Violet seems to have been left to fend for herself. She is every bit as accomplished as her clean-cut brother Henry, but she is barely noticed by father and brother.

As the head of the family, Rowan Clark (Rick Roberts) is smooth, quiet speaking for the most part, secretive and laid-back. He saves his ire for the arrival of Edmund Clark, his wayward son, played with blazing fierceness by Dan Mousseau. Edmund has all sorts of issues: drug-addled, emotionally wounded by the family and desperate. He is manipulative and he’s learned that from his family. They feed off each other.

Nancy Palk plays Marilyn Clark, Rowan’s stylish wife and support. Matters are complicated by Rowan Clark. He’s having an affair with his assistant, Simone, a watchful, careful Shauna Thompson. All of Simone’s conflicted feelings are in Shauna Thompson’s clear, detailed performance. Added to this is Simone’s brother Levi (Michael Ayres, who coincidentally met Edmund on the same plane. Levi is in some kind of trouble and Rowan offers to fix it. He wants to be seen as a good man, but his motives are less than altruistic.

Comment. Paolo Santalucia has written a really smart, challenging play that leaves you with so many ideas to unpack and dissect. I love the issues that Paolo Santalucia introduces with each character. He does not offer solutions, just the issue that we all turn over in our minds based on what each character says. We consider the source of a statement; we see how they interact with each other; we listen to their arguments—and there are plenty in this family—and we come to conclusions, perhaps.

It takes the whole play to appropriately say everything that needs to be said, leaving us with the challenges right up to the last word, to work out the parable, and any of the other issues of the play. I like that there is nothing neat about it. Santalucia gets us to consider redemption and forgiveness; can you have one without the other? If a person apologizes in an empty room, is that reason for redemption? Is the person worthy of forgiveness?  Who is worthy? Questions we also ponder in life. Paolo Santalucia has done a sterling job of directing this. It’s a stylish, elegant, often volatile production and totally engaging.

The Howland Company is association with Crow’s Theatre Presents,

Playing until March 12, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.. (1 intermission)

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