It’s easy to forget that while we know ourselves that does not mean others know who we are. You could have all of the finest intentions in the world in regards to your actions, but how we are perceived by others is not fully within our control. True our actions are arguably the major contributing factor in how we are perceived, but action alone is not always enough to sway one’s opinion one way or another. Sometimes one’s preconceptions towards and individual taint not only one’s view of the individual but of the individual’s self-image.
Prodigal Son, the latest work from the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley, follows Jim Quinn, a Bronx-raised kid who has been accepted into a prestigious private school in New Hampshire, as his rough, combative, inner city upbringing comes into conflict with his natural intellect and passion for literature.
As I’ve come to expect from Jarrott Productions, Prodigal Son offers the audience a series of queries that meditate on what it means to be human in a world without clear answers, mainly how much of our personalities are ingrained into our being and how much is subject to change and improvement. Jim Quinn (Sam Domino) continually grapples between his identities as a literary scholar/poet and a tough, take-no-prisoners punk from the Bronx. Domino gracefully walks the line between these roles as he clearly gives the effort to improve but is always one wrong word away from revolting against his peers. His unpredictability lends itself to the quality of his performance as well as the thematic relevance of his character to the plot. Perhaps Quinn’s most curious quirk (something which is often mentioned by the rest of the cast) is his fascination with the Nazi regime, but their relevance comes into light as Quinn considers that we learn when and why we are wrong from our victims (in referring to the Holocaust). In Domino’s case his two-sided Quinn also straddles the fence between victim and victimizer, and it becomes increasingly evident that he cannot be both without admitting to his own hypocrisies. He’s a fascinating character played expertly by Domino, compounding identity crises on top of one another rushing towards and inevitable break.
While Domino remains the major focus of the production, the cast is rounded out further by his peers and superiors. David Jarrott leads the educational institute as Headmaster Carl Schmitt who gave Quinn the chance at the his school in the first place. His is a struggle between wondering whether or not he made the correct choice in placing his faith in Quinn. As a predominantly religious character, Carl is portrayed by Jarrott who seems to treat this situation as a crisis of faith not in God but within his own judgement and his hopes for others. Paired off with Carl is his wife, Louise (Holly Shupp Salas), who is one of the institute’s professors, and a confidant of Quinn’s. There’s a curious certainty with which Salas portrays Louise that gives her the impression that she has a clear grasp of every scenario even if she doesn’t directly let others know. The other professor portrayed in the production, and another confidant of Quinn’s, is Alan Hoffman (Kelly Koonce). While Koonce’s portrayal of Hoffman is mostly cool and level-headed he has a habit of becoming a tad monotone in his deliveries that leave something to be desired. Though his multiple mellow moments juxtapose nicely with the rare scenes in which his intensity rises. Lastly there’s Quinn’s seldom-seen roommate, Austin Lord Schmidt (Tucker Martin), nephew to Carl and Louise. Martin’s role, while brief, helps solidify Quinn’s status as an outsider to the school, and establishes how far Quinn has come and needs to go to graduate.
What struck me immediately about this production was Chris Conard’s set design. At first glance it gives off the impression of a standard, academic study, but one quickly notices the crooked shelves, hanging books in disarray, and peeling walls that suggest the moral foundations of this institute are crumbling as Quinn raises questions of character and worth within them all. It’s a bit of a departure from Jarrott Productions’ previous, hyper-realistic sets, but it maintains the general tone that the company has cultivated since 2015. Prodigal Son has its peaks and valleys of tone and emotion, yet at its core it’s an inquisitive piece that grapples with basic questions of identity and morality in a grey world.
Prodigal Son by Jarrott Productions continues playing at Trinity Street Players every Thursday through Saturday at7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm until October 15th.