Review: “Prodigal Son” at Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island

Long Island audiences have the opportunity to take in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley’s “Prodigal Son” in the heart of Lindenhurst this weekend, where it runs at BACCA (Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts BACCA).

The venue is home to the Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island – formerly known as Phoenix Repertory Theatre Company – where directors, actors, and theatre professionals have joined forces to bring Long Island audiences lesser produced classic and contemporary plays. While the sets are minimal and the stage is small, there is a lot of heart going into Modern Classics’ latest production.

Young Joseph Massimillo, a senior at Oceanside High School this fall, stars as 17-year-old Jim Quinn – a violent, but gifted Bronx native who finds himself at a New Hampshire boarding school in the mid-1960s after receiving a once-in-a-lifetime scholarship. Mr. Massimillo has the responsibility of portraying a character who challenges both his teachers and the audience to decipher if Jim is a revolutionary mind or a mere delinquent with a high vocabulary. He is mostly successful in balancing Jim’s charisma and insightful potential with the lingering threat of violent outbursts. Despite a few instances of stiff delivery, the young actor excels in the most dramatic moments of the play and displays much promise as a performer. An unexpected musical interlude with Mr. Massimillo belting out Bob Dylan was a highlight of the show.

He is supported by a cast of seasoned actors who excellently embody their respective roles. Steve Germano gives a terrific performance as headmaster Carl Schmitt – a man challenged by Jim’s presence as he battles his own demons. Despite his position as an adversary, Mr. Germano makes it easy for the audience to develop empathy for his straight-laced character. His scenes with Rita Wallace as Louise Schmitt are particularly strong with both actors convincingly displaying the bond of a man and wife who have stuck together despite adversity. As an unlikely ally for Jim, Louise is able to bring out the good in the boy and Ms. Wallace shines in the scene she shares with Mr. Massimillo.

As English professor Alan Hoffman, Joe Mankowski becomes a natural ally for Jim at school. Mr. Mankowski’s performance is subtle, but powerful – especially as the second act plays out. It becomes obvious he is a performer making distinct choices that gives his character full dimension.

Sometimes, however, an actor with the fewest lines can make a lasting impression. Although Matthew Miniero performs most of his dialogue in one scene, he did just that as Jim’s roommate and the headmaster’s nephew, Austin Schmitt. As the two boys share a bottle of liquor and Jim goes on a rant and then a rampage, Mr. Miniero displays a particular vulnerability that appears effortless. A large portion of an actors job is also to react and there is an entire performance on display with only facial expression – revealing the inner workings this small, but impactful character’s mind. His contained, but powerful performance is memorable and the mark of a great talent.

Ultimately, Modern Classics succeeds in bringing Mr. Shanley’s play to an intimate venue. This production of “Prodigal Son” proves that you don’t need a multi-million dollar set to present a moving theatrical experience. The engaging performances of the cast and the efforts of director Jim Black and company deliver a production worth seeing.

Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island

Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island

The small, blackbox style stage at the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts theatre venue is almost entirely barren during Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island’s production of Six Degrees of Separation. The only exception is a loveseat center stage and a colorful modern painting affixed to one of two black barriers on each side of the stage. Despite the lack of furniture, the theatre is bursting with life throughout the magnetic production.

The theatre group’s second show in its second season boasts a cast of 15 seasoned actors – all pouring high voltage energy into each performance. The sharp direction of Matt Rosenberg keeps the ensemble and the audience on their toes throughout.

The rapid pace is inherent in John Guare’s 1990 play, now a period piece that has more to say than ever almost 30 years later. At the center of the story are Upper East Siders Flan, an art dealer, and Ouisa Kittredge, played expertly by Angelo DiBiase and Jill Linden. Entering in hysterics and donning bathrobes, the couple eventually gain enough composure to explain what brought them to such a state.

From there, we’re brought back to the night before as the couple entertains a South African friend, Dean Seaforth with a profoundly accurate accent, in their Fifth Avenue apartment. A knock at the door changes their plans for a night out, however, with the arrival of a young man named Paul (Shiloh Bennett) sustaining a knife wound from a mugging in Central Park. Claiming to be a friend of their children, Paul explains he was robbed of all his possessions and was left with nowhere to go. Equipped with a plethora of information about both the Kittredges and their children, Paul is welcomed and cared for. Eventually he reveals himself to be the apparent son of Sidney Poitier, who he explains was flying into New York to meet him in the morning.

Mr. Bennett gives a breathtaking performance as Paul, leaving the Kittredges and the audience hanging on his every word. He especially dazzles with a monologue delving into the cultural relevance of The Catcher in the Rye, the topic of the thesis paper that was also stolen during the mugging. His presence is simply hypnotic. Star-struck and warmed by the nice things their children allegedly told Paul about them, the couple’s guard is down to the extent Paul is sleeping in their home by the end of the night. However, in the morning they stumble upon him and a second guest – a male hustler. The context of the show’s opening then becomes clear as the events come full circle in a great exercise of farce.

However, that night would only be their first encounter with Paul, who they come to find also paid a similar visit to other members of their social circle. The comedy is unrelenting as we see these rich, liberal New Yorkers scramble in the face of their star-struck ignorance and susceptibility to flattery. The events especially provoke introspection in Ouisa, who begins to question what people truly know about their children or themselves. She is left wondering if her life is just made of elusive connections – the titular six degrees of separation. All the more fascinating is the fact that Mr. Guare found inspiration from a real account of a conman who targeted the Upper East Side in 1983.

In 2019, with the myth of a post-racial America thoroughly debunked and the wealthy 1 percent still reigning from their own Fifth Avenue apartments , the play is painfully relevant. No matter how you align politically, this rarely produced, clever play remains must-see theatre and Modern Classics’ cast of stand-out performers and production team does it justice.