The Howland Company held the world premiere of their latest show Prodigal, written and directed by Toronto’s Paolo Santalucia. The show is a new contemporary family drama, exploring themes of queerness, privilege, marginalization, and forgiveness as two young men attempt to return to the families they have lost—one to confront his past, and the other to start his future.
Prodigal explores forgiveness as an act of extraordinary compassion that often comes with a cost. In Santalucia’s words, “this play is interested in that cost – and whether we can (or should) ever pay it.” It also asks us to think whether who a person is and how they act can lead them to redemption.
These big and philosophical themes are explored by dissecting the lives of the very affluent and prominent Clark family members. We have the patriarch Rowan Clark (Rick Roberts) an matriarch Marilyn Clark (Nancy Palk). Their second son Henry (Cameron Laurie) is celebrating his engagement to influencer/ entrepeneur Sadie (Veronica Hortiguela). Their only daughter Violet (Hallie Seline) is an acomplished writer.
Rowan’s executive assistant Simone Côle (Shauna Thompson) has asked him for help with her brother’s visa. Her brother Levi (Michael Ayres) has decided to emigrate to Canada for a chance at a better life for him, his wife, and soon-to-be born child.
At Henry’s engagement party, we find out Rowan has been shortlisted as the next Governor General of Canada. Amidst the celebration, Violet confronts her mother about her eldest brother, Edmund (Dan Mousseau) who has been estranged from the family for some time. Marilyn and Violet’s relationship is contentious. To make matters worse, Rowan tells his wife he has cut off Edmund from the family trust.
The engagement party seems to succeed only in appearance thanks to the the husband and wife catering team of Pauline (Meghan Swaby) and Quentin (Jeff Yung). The interactions between Sadie and the family members with Pauline and Quentin are incredibly cringey – making really difficult to empathize with any of them.
To spice things up even more, Edmund, the gay, alcoholic, eldest son arrives drunk and high towards the end of the party. The situation escalates when the family sees Edmund arriving with Levi, whom he met on the plane. It appears Levi and Edmund got very close while on their ride to Canada. This is no happy reunion… messy is putting it mildly.
Mixed with the Clark’s dysfunction is Levi and Simone’s story. Their happy reunion is short-lived as Levi’s visa into Canada is in peril due to a previous arrest in their home country. In addition, Simone has realized her brother has been living a dual life for some time. They must now find a way to reconcile and move forward as well.
The story unfolds in a way that makes us laugh, cry and challenges us to think of reasons why a parent is able to support a stranger in their home so readily while turning their back on their eldest son.
Prodigal is a dark comedy filled with smart, witty, and challenging dialogue. I enjoyed every bit and every minute of it. Mousseau gives a tour-de-force perfomance as the prodigal son, Edmund. The entire cast excels in their respective roles so well. The production is elevated thanks to the light design work by Logan Raju Cracknell and set design by Mark Hockin.
The audience’s reaction at the performance I attended was priceless. Throughout the entire performance there were plenty of laughters, oooh, aaahs, and a standing ovation at the end. All indications that Toronto audiences know a good thing when they see it.
Prodigal invites us to reflect on what makes us who we are, and to consider how we can go about forgiving someone given who they are. We explore this big ideas through the lives of these characters, some of whom are sympathetic and some that are not. Leaving us with plenty to talk and ponder about.
Content Advisory: Prodigal features mature language and themes, substance abuse, and mentions of suicide. Recommended for audiences 19+.
Prodigal continues at Crow’s Theatre until March 12, 2023. Tickets run from $20 to $65, including some limited Pay-What-You-Can tickets available on Sunday matinees. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit howlandcompanytheatre.com/prodigal/ or crowstheatre.com.