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Pacific Theatre and Touchstone Theatre

Prodigal Son
By Shawn Macdonald

Director Katrina Dunn Dramaturg: Rachel Ditors Lighting John Webber Set design Yvan Morissette Sound Paul Moniz de Sa Stage Manager Robin Bancroft-Wilson

Dates 15 March - 9 April Venue Pacific Theatre
Reviewer Ed Farolan

Bob Frazer as Barclay and Craig Erickson as Peter; photo by Tim Matheson

The world premiere of Macdonald's play received a warm reception from the opening night audience last March 17th. I was moved by this play. It had the dramatic and tragic workings of an Arthur Miller, and the absurd humour of a Samuel Beckett.

From Director Dunn's notes, she wrote that this play was challenging and powerful. It took three years to develop it through the Playwrights Theatre Centre as well as the Banff playRites colony and Pacific Theatre.

With this take-off from Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke, Macdonald creates an adaptation of the parable in a Quebec contemporary setting. It is 1995 and politics and religion are the main targets. A referendum takes place in Quebec, and the separatists lose by 1%. An English Catholic family where the protagonist, Peter, who is the eldest son, is happy, as all English-speaking residents of Quebec were happy when the separatists who wanted Quebec to be an independent state, lost their bid.

From the personal angle, Macdonald creates a homosexual, and not the parable playboy who squanders all his money and returns begging  for mercy from his father. On the contrary, in this script, Peter returns to confront his father and blame him for his traditional Catholic ways which conflict with his homosexuality.

As the Catholic Church has been embroiled with pedophile problems and homosexuality among its clerics in these past few years, one would say that this play is indeed well-timed. In the end, the values of Christianity triumph: forgiveness is the reconciling point at the end of the play, as Peter's father asks for forgiveness

Macdonald who has a philosophy degree from a Catholic University, expresses his views of love and forgiveness, using the Prodigal Son parable as his jumping board. In his notes, he says: "Generally, I think, the myth is interpreted as an example of the unconditionality of God's love, and that the lost and wayward are always welcomed back into the fold."

Dunn did an excellent job directing this play, and the actors were excellent. The child actors, Camille Beaudoin, Michael Gunion and Alex Pimm were truly professional. Donald Adams as the father, Murdoch, was powerful --the loving and yet strict father sticking to old Catholic conservatism. His transformation from the young father to the old, sick man at the end of the play was outstanding.

Christine Willes as Marlene, the mother, was so natural in her role as the mother hen, and the loyal wife who, in her old age, as she transforms into bitterness, starts swearing, using the F word, a big boo boo for conservative Catholics. But her acting was superb, and I would say she was the prime mover in the success of this production.

Craig Erickson as the main protagonist, Peter, was a bit uncomfortable with his gayness at the beginning. He appeared a bit mechanical in the line exchanges, somewhat wooden, but as the play progressed, his acting became more powerful and emotional.

Bob Frazer as the gay lover of Peter was the comic relief. His gay speech both in tone and content elicited a lot of laughter from the audience; his other role as Peter's big brother, Richard, the irresponsible son (again, quite opposite from the responsible older brother in Luke's Gospel), was also funny. A mark of a true actor, going from his gay character, to a philandering playboy husband.

The production aspects were simple for this intimate theatre, but the lighting design and the sound effects contributed a lot to the success of this production. Congratulations to Touchstone and Pacific Theatres for a splendid show!

© 2006 Ed Farolan