BWW Review: John Patrick Shanley Recalls His Rebellious Youth in PRODIGAL SON
There are coming of age stories where you identify with the awkward struggles of the protagonists and recognize a little of yourself as you watch them learn valuable life lessons. And there are coming of age stories where you wish they'd just grow up already.
John Patrick Shanley's Prodigal Son, which the playwright/director says combines with his previous BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY and his Pulitzer-winner DOUBT to provide what is basically his autobiography, leans a bit towards the latter.
Set at the Thomas More Preparatory School in New Hampshire in the late 1960s, the play centers around a Shanley stand-in, Jim Quinn, an intellectually gifted kid from a poor Irish family in the Bronx who's attending on a scholarship.
A scholastic underachiever who quotes Greek philosophers and thinks T.S. Eliot is insignificant, Quinn steals, drinks, rebelliously questions dogma and is prone to violence. But as portrayed by Timothee Chalamet, he's also a charismatic charmer who displays just enough troubled sensitivity to make his potential seem worthy of nurturing.
Robert Sean Leonard plays the prototypically casual and understanding teacher in earth tones who advocates for him to the buttoned-up headmaster (Chris McGarry) who wants him expelled. Annika Boras, as a teacher who is the headmaster's wife also sides with Quinn, and David Potters, as the boy's nerdy roommate, is the frequent target of his antagonism.
Despite the central character's aggressions, Shanley directs the ninety minute drama as a soft and sentimental memory. The action is sparse, the tension is mild and the plotting always seems more or less familiar.
Leonard's character describes Quinn as "the most interesting mess we have this year," but Prodigal Son is neither interesting or nor messy enough to make an impact.