Review: Prodigals – Tara Pratt’s performance is worth the admission price alone

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There are usually two ways I know when a piece of theatre thoroughly sucks me in: a total immersion into the story that blocks out the usual annoyances from my fellow theatre-goers, or, as was the case with the Twenty Something Theatre production of Prodigals last night, when I find myself so connected with some of the characters that I want to scream out and provide them with what I consider sage advice.

Greg (Jameson Parker) and Nips (Brandyn Eddy) find themselves trapped in their small town lives in Sault Ste Marie, along with Nips’ girlfriend Jen (Tara Pratt) and friends Nina (Abby Renee Creek) and Eliot (Aslam Husain). A brutal beating by Nina’s brother, who we never actually meet, brings mutual friend Wes (Timothy Johnston) back to “the Soo” to act as a character witness in the trial. Problem is, not only is Wes viewed with some jealousy by those that never escaped, but he and Jen have a history, opening up long lost feelings between them.

It was in the relationship between Jen and Wes where I found myself so immersed. Led by a near perfect performance by Pratt, by the time Jen was forced to make a potentially life-changing decision at the end of the play, I found myself wanting to yell out my own words of advice to her (for the record, she didn’t do what I had hoped). Easily capturing the conflict in Jen, Pratt gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as she must decide if she simply settles or does she take the risk.

Jameson Parker, Brandyn Eddy, and Timothy Johnston in a scene from the Twenty Something Theatre production of Prodigals.

Of course, having such a singularly strong performance tends to highlight the deficiencies in others. While Parker, Eddy and Johnston all give believable life to their characters, both Creek and Husain struggled. Not of course that they were entirely to blame here, as I did find them having to deal with the least fleshed out characters in playwright Sean Minogue’s otherwise excellent script.

Director Peter Boychuk’s decision to have some of the characters on stage as soon as the house opened was a risky move and not entirely successful. For nearly twenty minutes before the “curtain” we watched as Parker, Eddy and Pratt improvised some rather silly antics as friends enjoying a night at the bar. When the show actually began though, the first scripted words were almost shouted in an effort to get our attention and signify the start. There was also an abrupt difference in tone that took me a few minutes to adjust to as we moved from the improvisation to the scripted dialogue.

There are a number of very short monologues where the various characters either talk to the audience or pretend to be giving their evidence at the trial. While I am still not sure if one of these scenes was miscued or the actor that was to present the monologue simply didn’t make it, it only highlighted for me how unnecessary they really were.

Jonathan Tsang’s set design is hands-down the best I have ever seen at the Havana. With such an awkward and intimate space, his linear design and attention to detail really captured the essence of small town bars across the country. Heather Lamb’s lighting design is equally some of the best I have seen here as well, providing a variety of shadow and light in the bar and, in a couple of instances, a low wintry sunlight coming through the windows that had me almost feeling the cold.

Despite some minor issues, Prodigals is definitely worth the price of its rather small admission. And if the idea of seeing something from one of Vancouver’s newest talented playwrights isn’t enough to convince you to go, Pratt’s amazing performance should.

But remember, advice from the balcony is probably not a good idea.

4 out of 5 Stars Prodigals
Havana Theatre
26 April – 2 May 2010

Set in a small bar in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, six young underachievers await the results of a murder trial that’s hit close to home. Their world of drinking, sarcasm and missed opportunities is flipped upside down when a former friend returns from Toronto to testify in the trial, reopening old wounds and creating some new ones as well. Tickets are $10 – $15 available at Tickets Tonight or by calling 604-684-2787.

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