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'Prodigal' by Paolo Santalucia

The Howland Company in association with Crow's Theatre presents a world premiere

Credit: Dahlia Katz. Foreground: Dan Mousseau and Rick Roberts. Background: Cameron Laurie

Joe Szekeres

A biting, razor-sharp commentary of privilege, ‘Prodigal’ becomes a story of uncomfortable moments of painful familial and human interaction. Through dark humour and dramatic intensity, the play directly asks how much we are willing to pay in cost for forgiveness whether we show it to others or ask it of ourselves. A thrilling cast directed with bold intention.

‘Prodigal’ opens with the Preacher (Shauna Thompson) breaking the fourth wall. She warmly speaks to the audience about forgiveness and redemption and shares an interesting story about a barber who accidentally cuts the ear of one of his customers. Shauna Thompson also plays Rowan Clark’s personal assistant, Simone Côle.

We then enter the uber-clean but sterile-looking kitchen of the ultra-upscale, wealthy Toronto home of the privileged Clark family: patriarch Rowan (Rick Roberts) and his wife, Marilyn (Nancy Palk). Caterer Quentin (Jeff Yung) and his chef wife, Pauline (Meghan Swaby), are busily preparing the food for an offstage party taking place behind the kitchen wall. We learn this party is the celebration of the engagement of the Clarks’ son, Henry (Cameron Laurie) and his fiancée, Sadie (Veronica Hortiguela). Simone waits in the kitchen for a phone call from her brother, Levi (Michael Ayres), at the airport to go pick him up.

We also meet the Clark’s daughter, Violet (Hallie Seline) who carries a huge chip on her shoulder. Finally, we meet the estranged eldest wayward and open-wound son, Edmund (Dan Mousseau), who has been away for five years. Edmund shows up unannounced after he has been cut off from the family trust. Edmund has brought with him an acquaintance.

Mark Hockin’s sleek and ultra-chic kitchen allows ease of movement on the Guloien stage when there are only perhaps two- or three characters present. However, at one point, the stage becomes full which made the kitchen space look crowded, but this moment works oh so nicely. The quick pacing fluidly and most importantly maintained my interest to see what would happen next.

Laura Delchiaro has made some excellent choices in costume designs as they are perfect initial indicators of what lies underneath each person. For example, Mousseau’s ripped and torn clothes gave me a quick understanding of what Edmund’s life has probably been like these last five years. Rick Roberts and Nancy Palk’s clothing are strongly reminiscent of upwardly mobile and privileged individuals.

The title ‘Prodigal’ is a reminder of the Biblical parable from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus tells the story of two sons – one who works hard and the other who asks his father for his inheritance and then squanders it recklessly in living an indulgent life. With nothing left, that son returns home and is forced to work as a hired hand for a pig farmer. The father welcomes his wayward son home with open arms while the other son is unnerved and annoyed by the special treatment his brother receives.

Playwright Paolo Santalucia’s script becomes a razor-sharp commentary on privilege behind the Biblical text and what it means. At times, the dialogue nastily cuts and bites. At other times, it’s a bloodbath of words and insults furiously hurled at one another, sometimes in jest, but mostly in anger and frustration about privilege.

It’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch the plot unfold.

Like all good theatre and all discussion that should stem from watching a good play, ‘Prodigal’ should spark lively conversation.

What’s fascinating about Santalucia’s script?

He smartly and wisely connects the story of the prodigal son to a modern understanding of privilege, and what we think we might know about forgiveness. One can maintain a secular view about discussing this desirable human quality because it is one to which we all must strive within our lives no matter what.

But what came very clear to me personally about ‘Prodigal?

The Howland Company in association with Crow’s Theatre made an excellent choice in staging the production during this Lenten season. Forgiveness is part of the Christian journey over the next forty days. From a faith perspective, forgiveness leads to redemption, but this does not happen immediately. It takes time.

Santalucia infers the same about an understanding of forgiveness from his Director’s Note: “[the] ability … is an act of extraordinary compassion [but]comes at a cost. It carries with it great unknowns …and either changes us or enables us.” The great unknown also involves time as this change or enablement will not be immediately evident.

Paolo’s direction remains confidently bold throughout. He does not shy away at all from staging edge-of-the-seat confrontations that make good theatre.

‘Prodigal’ remains that good theatre we’re craving.

Could I show forgiveness for what happens to these people in this play? It was a challenge when I first met them.

But I could. Eventually. It took me at least a day and a half to think about the play before I came to this conclusion.

The Clark family and those connected to them have no problem flaunting their privilege. One hilarious moment occurs when Henry’s vapid fiancée, Sadie (wonderful work by Veronica Hortiguela) believes she has been wronged in her confrontation with the chef, Pauline. Meghan Swaby throws some decent one-line zingers back to Sadie which shows she doesn’t have to put up with that kind of contemptuous behaviour by anyone. Yet Pauline does try to forgive the moment, but what’s the cost? She tells her caterer husband, Quentin (Jeff Yung) that they will charge double if asked to cater the wedding. Yung’s comical facial response to Swaby says it all.

As Rowan’s personal assistant Simone and her brother, Levi, Shauna Thompson and Michael Ayres respectively become pawns in the Clark’s family troubles. Thompson and Ayres believably respond as brother and sister especially when the truth comes out about Levi’s actions and how it will cost him plenty if his pregnant wife finds out about what he has done.

Trying to understand the other members of the Clark family and their sense of privileged entertainment came at a personal cost for me. Rick Roberts and Nancy Palk extraordinarily lead the way in their performances as parents who have probably reminded their children they come from good stock, and not to mess up their family name. But a secret between this husband and wife might just invariably rip apart this so-called ‘idyllic’ privileged world.

Hallie Seline is direct, blunt, and sometimes cutthroat (and rightly so) in her performance as chip-on-the-shoulder Violet. I received the impression the Clark boys received all the attention and Violet, the studious, educated daughter, was pushed to the side because her parents probably felt she would be fine on her own. As the soon-to-be-married son Henry, Cameron Laurie is dutiful to the family name and will stop at nothing to ensure it remains untarnished. Laurie’s growing anger and resentment of his elder estranged brother, Edmund, remains valid, especially with the offer made to Edmund at the end of the play.

Dan Mousseau’s electric performance as the alcoholic, gay, outcast and open-wound Edmund remains gritty, coarse, and vulnerable. Edmund becomes the one who is probably the hardest to forgive especially when he learns something about his father that could tear the family to shreds.

Final Comments: Electrifying and bursting out on the Guloien stage with great passion, ‘Prodigal’ hits the mark about human qualities that we all need to share and ask for when necessary.

It’s a performance that must be seen.

One of my picks.

Go see it.

Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

‘Prodigal’ runs until March 12 in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit or call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010

‘PRODIGAL’ by Paolo Santalucia

Director: Paolo Santalucia
Set Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell
Costume Designer: Laura Delchiaro
Sound Designer: Jacob Lin
Stage Manager: Sam Hale

Performers: Michael Ayres, Veronica Hortiguela, Cameron Laurie, Dan Mousseau, Nancy Palk, Rick Roberts, Hallie Seline, Meghan Swaby, Shauna Thompson, Jeff Yung.

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