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The Prodigal Son

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A new semi-autbiographical play by Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Oscar winning dramatist, John Patrick Shanley.


Shanley has a lot of awards but he was truly one messed up kid growing up. He was kicked out of kindergarden, expelled from the elementary school lunch program, drove the nuns crazy, was expelled from a Catholic high school and in a fit of exasperation sent off to a remote boarding school in New Hampshire mountains where his problems continued. I should know, I watched him from across the classroom in elementary school where we were classmates. At one point in the sixth or seventh grade he sat directly behind me and glued candy wrappers to the back of my shirt. Sister Christopher went ballistic! She insisted I bring the shirt back to school the following day so poor Patrick's mother could wash and iron it! My mother had a different opinion and washed and iron the shirt herself. Boy that nun was mad...and at me..the victim of his stupid prank. Shanley was always a "piece of work" and was truly one of the most disturbed individuals I ever met. His bio says his tenure in the army help to straighten him out. Must have. Our lives have crisscrossed in odd ways over the years. he was my best friend's upstairs neighbor in Brooklyn Heights and he worked with my upstairs neighbor ( a vile and loathsome creature) at the Labyrinth Theater Co.


This play deals with Shanley's time in New Hampshire and the disturbing years he spent at the school, always in trouble and always on the brink of expulsion. He drank, he stole, he frequently questioned his teachers both in their authority and their teachings, as well as beat up most of the freshman class. He was loathsome.


Shanley has changed the name of the main character to Jim Quinn and young actor Timothee Chalamet does a good job recreating Shanley's horrible behavior, but lacked the intensity that I think the role required. The small supporting cast, including Robert Sean Leonard as his school mentor and advisor do a good job expressing their frustration over Shanley's inappropriate behaviors. One would think that somewhere along the line this group would have immersed Shanley into psychotherapy to try and come to the cause of his extreme behavior. I think this is the big uninsured question in the play...why?


The play runs a little over 90 minutes with no intermission. It's currently in previews and I think it needs just a bit of trimming.


Also, I'll be in touch with Shanley about his references to Linda Pepe. She joined our class in the 8th grade and I think Shaney lost his virginity to her. She was a sweet girl but boy oh boy was she a bit of a slut. She was the talk of all the nuns and mother's during that final year at St. Anthony's. I wonder if she signed a release?







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  • 2 weeks later...

NYTimes says:



Review: ‘Prodigal Son,’ John Patrick Shanley’s Exploration of the Student He Once Was

Prodigal Son





Timothée Chalamet stars in “Prodigal Son” at City Center. CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

  • John Patrick Shanley has invited you to spend a season with him in what he calls “a special, beautiful room in hell.” As you might expect of this creator of memorably volatile plays (“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Dirty Story”) and film scripts
    ), it is not the sort of place you feel like sitting back and relaxing.
    Not that fire, brimstone or any of the usual instruments of infernal torture are deployed in his “Prodigal Son,” which opened on Tuesday night in a Manhattan Theater Club production at City Center directed by Mr. Shanley. What awaits you is far more painful: the sound of a raw adolescent ego screaming for attention.
    Or as the ego in question, Jim Quinn (played by the gifted Timothée Chalamet), puts it in his opening and closing remarks to the audience, “Do you remember 15?” It could be argued that Mr. Shanley recalls that age so vividly that he hasn’t just written about it; he has also rendered it as if, in his mid-60s, he were still writhing in the stinging throes of his midteens.
    From left, Timothée Chalamet, Annika Boras and Chris McGarry in “Prodigal Son.”CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times
    Closely modeled on Mr. Shanley’s experiences as a student, “Prodigal Son” is a hymn to the impossible, combustible and brilliant young thing he once was. And it is filled with the sort of self-worshiping, self-flagellating self-centeredness you associate with boys tormented by their raging hormones. Even when it portrays other characters, “Prodigal Son” is inescapably all about Jim.
    The story charts two years in the life of this problem child from the Bronx, who in the mid-1960s receives a scholarship to attend the Thomas More Preparatory School, a private Roman Catholic institution in New Hampshire. (Santo Loquasto’s lyrical set, which is heavy on wistful birch trees, evokes the poetical shorthand of memory.) Why he is the beneficiary of such largess is a bit of a mystery, even to Jim.
    His grades in public school were shabby, with I.Q. scores to match. In the Bronx, he was notorious for terrorizing his fellow students and the priests who taught him. Yet Carl Schmitt (Chris McGarry), the headmaster at Thomas More, sees unusual promise in the lad, a natural writer who has a head full of poetry and a lacerating obsession with the Nazis.
    “He’s the most interesting mess we have this year,” Carl says to Alan Hoffman (Robert Sean Leonard, doing his best with a contradictory part), Jim’s English teacher. Alan, who has an affinity for sensitive youths, tells Jim: “You’re strong, maybe too damn strong. You’re an extraordinary person.”
    Carl’s wife, Louise (Annika Boras), remarks of Jim in admiration, “He’s using poetry like a ladder to climb out of some terrible place.” And even Jim’s roommate, Austin (David Potters), has to admit that the guy is deep.
    “Doubt” is seldom in evidence. In “Prodigal Son,” the main function of the other characters is as a hall of mirrors to Jim’s astonishing self. That particular self brings to mind the literature-besotted college-bound hero of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” crossed with the terminally misunderstood title character played by James Dean in the ultimate angry young teen movie, “Rebel Without a Cause.” Throw in a dash of the fiery genius of the precocious French poet Rimbaud, along with a matching predilection for violence.

The reedy Mr. Chalamet, who has appeared on television in “Homeland” and in films including “Interstellar,” never seems physically menacing. But otherwise, he fills a tall order of a character with enough easy charisma to confirm his status as a rising star.


He is delightful when Jim pronounces the names of other people that he would like to have as his own: Rafael Sabatini (author of the swashbuckling “Scaramouche”), the poet Siegfried Sassoon or the gunman Elfego Baca. Savoring the grandeur of such nomenclature, Mr. Chalamet’s Jim grows into a fleeting, flamboyant assurance.


Otherwise, he’s flailing. “The only way I know anything about what I am is what I see in other people’s eyes,” he says. Jim is a character in search of an author to explain him to himself. Strangely enough, the man that Jim would become seemingly has yet to achieve the distance to make this struggling artist-in-the-making worthy of a play of his own.


Yes, i liked it but my history with Mr. Shanley got in the way. My mind kept thinking about the past.

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