On Sunday, April 2nd Pacific Theatre & Touchstone Theatre presented the world premier of Prodigal Son by Shawn Macdonald. Scott Wood, host of the interview show, was there to see it…
When organized religion shuns you because of who you are and who you love, how does this affect your relationship with ‘the divine’?
Prodigal Son deals with the struggle of Peter, a 30 something gay man, who has escaped his strangling Anglophone-in-Quebec-strict-Catholic upbringing for the wet solace of BC. He soon discovers that even if you physically remove yourself from a situation, you can never really escape the scars from the past. Powerful experiences with ‘the divine’ and a boyfriend who fears he is going insane, force Michael into the care of a haggard psychiatrist (who is reeling from her own recent divorce) and they work to hold on to the connection that he has been denying for so long.
Via flashbacks, we see young Michael and his outcast family (outcasts since they are Anglophones, yet still Catholics, in Quebec) and we see how the church has allowed Peter to channel his gift to be connected with God as he writes eloquent prayers in his notebook. As he begins to take on his sexual identity, he realizes that the church, with which his family and spiritual expression are inextricably connected, will utterly condemn him.
Prodigal Son is also a "coming out" story-a genre that is quite exhausted. All the tired characters are there: the heavily in denial mom and dad, the insensitive older jock brother, and the comfortable-in-a-pink-feather-boa boyfriend. All the weary scenes are also present: gay man forces mom and dad to recognize his boyfriend, flame-y boyfriend slips up and says something "too gay" to the mom, gay son tries to reconcile the entire dysfunctional family while he comes out-and succeeds!
Yet something saves the production from the bargain-bin at the local gay and lesbian book store.
The gifted cast definitely elevates the material from drifting too close towards cliché. Gina Chiarelli’s out of control hair speaks volumes to her overzealous investment in her patient Peter. Her tones force Peter to claw for recovery when he is ready to give up since her success with him clearly is the only progress she is able to make in her miserable life. In his first major stage role, Alex Pimm is the perfect mix of sensitivity and tenderness as young Peter. And veteran Donald Adams, as Peter’s father, makes his character entirely sympathetic and relatable, especially as he has it out with his son over their shared theology on his deathbed.
The script is also unabashedly Canadian. Macdonald manages to work in references to the Quebec referendum, hockey, Ontario (the family views moving to Sarnia-can you believe it?- as a haven from Anglophone-hating in Quebecers) and even finds the time to jab at the BC NDP party.
The other strength of the play is that it is more than just a coming out story. Peter struggles with his spirituality and the stranglehold organized religion can force on something so beautiful and important - this is certainly something many people deal with. It is difficult for any Catholic (practicing or not) not to wince whenever we see the church on television, whether it is the latest pedophile scandal or simply the Pope espousing hopelessly out-of-date views. Spirituality should be the force that unites people and a church seems like a good place to come together. And like Peter, it is not something we can deny.
For more information visit www.pacifictheatre.org