BWW Review: PRODIGAL SON - Outstanding Performances Outshine Flawed Script
Jarrott Productions continue their tradition of producing quality shows with some of Austin's best actors in their production of John Patrick Shanley's biographical drama, PRODIGAL SON.
Written in 2016 the play, narrated by Bronx born diamond in the rough, Jim Quinn (Sam Domino), is told as series of memories. The show begins as Jim has been expelled from his last high school and has been accepted to a Catholic boy's prep school in New Hampshire on scholarship. This is do or die for Jim, he must succeed or be sent home in shame to work at menial labor for the rest of his life. Even though being sent down would mean an end to his aspirations to be a writer, Jim does nearly everything in his power to ensure his expulsion. It's clear from the beginning that Jim would prefer to be someone else, anyone else, he yearns for a more exotic name and a different life. Headmaster, Carl Schmitt (David Jarrott), feels a responsibility to help his young student succeed and asks teacher Alan Hoffman (Kelly Koonce) to mentor the troubled young man. Jim shows brilliance in writing but has little interest in other subjects, barely scraping by. Somehow he manages to make it to the brink of graduation when his self destructive behavior kicks into high gear. Shanley's script leaves a lot to be desired in it's 90 minute, one act format. Jim admits several times, that he doesn't understand his own behavior, but it feels like the playwright is cheating the audience of any real introspection. When late in the play a character does something shocking that is not only unmotivated, but in my opinion, theatrically cheap, it's clear that the script is at fault. Overall the story has an unfinished feel with unexplored motivations and a stereotypical backstory that left me questioning the work rather than the performances. That said, the cast is outstanding and it's certainly not their fault that the material they are working with is flawed.
Playing at Trinity Street Theatre, this production limits seating to about half of its normal capacity, the three sided acting area is transformed into what is in essence a proscenium stage. As I said the cast is outstanding, every actor gives deep, heartfelt performances holding the audience in rapt attention. Holly Shupp Salas is truly wonderful as the headmaster's wife and member of the teaching staff. She is haunted by personal loss but remains a staunch advocate for Jim, acting as his surrogate mother and pushing him to find hope and deeper meaning in literature. As Jim's roommate, Austin, Tucker Martin is charming and engaging in a seriously underwritten rolE. Kelly Koonce as Jim's mentor, Mr Hoffman gives a solid performance, striking the balance between friend and teacher nicely. As the headmaster, David Jarrott handles his role deftly, his legendary voice is unmatched and his portrayal, heartfelt. But it's Sam Domino who dominates the production, his characterization of the troubled youth is flawlessly driven and compelling. Domino may be young but he handles the role with unmatched verve, wearing his Bronx accent and middle class manners like a badge of honor. Director Bryan Bradford does an excellent job keeping the action moving through multiple scene changes and infusing the production with a dream-like feel. The scene changes themselves are a work of art; every set piece glides seamlessly on and off stage moved with precision by the cast. Glenda Wolfe's costume design is sensational in its adherence to the 1960's period, no detail has been overlooked. The set design by Chris Conrad is inspired, his use of wooden flooring that bends up the walls is stunning and gives an off kilter feel to the production. Conrad is also responsible for the beautiful lighting design that segments scenes and evokes emotion in a notoriously difficult space to light. With such stellar production values it's easy to overlook the flaws in the script.
I give my recommendation to Jarrott Production's PRODIGAL SON, a beautiful production filled with compelling performances.
by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Bryan Bradford
Trinity Street Theatre, Austin
September 21 - October 15
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $23 - $25, jarrottproductions.com