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.