What do we mean by “forgiveness” or “redemption”? Prodigal, written and directed by Paolo Santalucia currently being presented by the Howland Company at Crow’s Theatre asks us to consider just that. It’s a curiously structured play. On one level it’s a black comedy about a seriously dysfunctional elite family but there’s an intro to each act in which a preacher exegises on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are invited to compare the characters we are about to see with the dramatic personae of Christ’s teaching. But are they really comparable?”
Let’s look at what we have. Rowan Clark (Rick Roberts) is the patriarch who is about to become Governor General (how he got to be so considered is never explained). He has three children; Edmund (Dan Mousseau) is estranged and a drug addled homosexual. Henry (Cameron Laurie) is a talentless wannabee who aspires to be like his father but has anger management problems and a notable absence of grey matter. Violet (Hallie Seline) is fixated on Edmund and is trying to carve out a life for herself outside the family circle. She’s also in a perpetual war with her largely disregarded mother Marilyn (Nancy Palk) whose survival strategies seem to include an obsession with gardening and “the club”
We first meet them at a party to celebrate Henry’s engagement to Sadie (Veronica Hortuguela) who appears at first as an internet celebrity and personal brand obsessed woman of striking shallowness; obsessed with crystals, sound baths and the like. Later we may suspect there’s more to her but first up she and Henry seem perfectly matched. Also lurking around is Rowan’s young “personal assistant” Simone Côle (Shauna Thompson; who doubles as the Preacher). In the middle of a cringeworthy set of encounters between various family members and the husband and wife catering team; Pauline (Meghan Swaby) and Quentin (Jeff Yung), Edmund shows up completely stoned and with Simone’s brother Levi (Michael Ayres) in tow. Mayhem erupts. At this point it’s a classical dysfunctional family drama with screaming, swearing and throwing things about.
The plot moves on and it’s all about Rowan making sure that all his skeletons are buried deep enough to at least avoid the bumbling attentions of CSIS and thus scupper his chance at Rideau Hall. A drug addled homosexual son would be bad enough but it also turns out he is having an affair with Simone and he is helping her brother with immigration; not perhaps the wisest move as Levi has left a pregnant wife somewhere in Francophone Africa and is basically on the run from the police there because of various homosexual encounters.
Rowan’s attitude to all this is to cut ties with or buy off or both anyone who stands between him and the GGship. And that I think is where the basic conceptual problem of the work lies. Nobody forgives and nobody is redeemed. They are more or less satisfactorily bribed or, like Marilyn and Henry, just jog along in a self created bubble that cuts them off from both reality and self awareness. If Henry were more the dutiful and admirable son Rowan’s diversion of serious cash to Edmund might seem more like the treatment the “good” son resents in the parable but Henry is so essentially worthless that it’s hard to feel any sympathy. The ending, inevitably, is ambiguous. The message seems to be that, given enough money and the ears of the well connected, the powerful can bluster/bribe their way through anything.
So that sounds pretty negative but it serves as a framework for a very funny couple of hours of theatre. It’s well written and brilliantly acted. The structure is clever and each actor is entirely convincing as his or her character. It’s the sort of show where one finds oneself laughing out loud, all the time, at things one probably shouldn’t be laughing at. And often, just as one leaves off laughing at what has been done/said, the sheer horror of what hasn’t been hits you in the gut. It’s really not funny that Marilyn loves a chestnut tree more than her children but placed in a suitably incongruous context it’s actually very funny. That’s just one of dozens of examples I might have cited.
So, I’m not convinced that Prodigal quite meets its high philosophical goals but it’s a fun night at the theatre which I’d recommend.
Prodigal runs at Crow’s theatre until March 12th.
Photo credits: Dahlia Katz