Theatre review: Prodigals – take advantage of second chances

Someone told me recently that there is so much theatre in Vancouver that there is no reason to see a show a second time, no matter how good.  I’m glad I ignored that advice last night as we revisted the gang from “The Soo” in the Twenty-Something Theatre production of Prodigals, currently on stage at SFU Woodwards through Saturday, 14 May 2011.

Despite being billed as a world premiere, Prodigals is actually a re-worked and slightly expanded version of the play which made our top ten theatre list in 2010.  Over the past year local playwright Sean Minogue has honed his script and almost a year to the day sees version 2.0 of his play remounted in the relative comforts of SFU Woodwards’ Studio T.  Along with the revised script, comes a revised budget which has also helped propel this production to the next level.

Returning to reprise their roles is five of the six original actors, with Kirsten Kilburn the only new addition to the cast, taking over the role of Nina.  While there was something comforting in seeing the majority of the actors from the original return to the stage, there was certainly nothing complacent about their performances.

Given the opportunity for this re-write, Minogue has given some of his characters more life.  Where last year I groused about Eliot (Aslam Husain) and Nina (Kilburn) not being quite as fleshed out as the others, their expanded roles have helped immensely to make them equals amongst the ensemble and Husain and Kilburn exploit the expansion of their characters to their fullest.

Once again it was in the relationship between Jen (Tara Pratt) and Wes (Timothy Johnston) that I found myself so drawn and while I knew the choice she was to ultimately make, I still found myself hoping that perhaps Minogue might surprise us with a different ending.  The tension and attraction between the two when they are on stage together is simply electrifying.  I saw a new vulnerability in Johnston’s Wes that I had not seen last year.

Aslam Husain and Tara Pratt in a scene from the Twenty-Something Theatre presentation of Sean Minogue's Prodigals
Aslam Husain and Tara Pratt in a scene from the Twenty-Something Theatre presentation of Sean Minogue’s Prodigals

The monologues return in Minogue’s new script and again I don’t see the point.  Once I had realized they remained I tried to pay particular attention to see how they drive the story or fill in any missing pieces for us.  For me, they don’t.

Given the enlarged set and new theatre space, returning director Peter Boychuk is able to play with some of the action, including some clever scenes of the characters outside the bar.

Along with the new script and new venue comes a new set.  Set designer Jonathan Tsang, whose design was so successful in the awkward Havana last year, has, thanks to an obviously bigger budget, been able to take his design to a whole new level.  Given the size of the new set entrances and exits are made much longer and are definitely in need of some sort of dampening device to stop the distracting clunk of shoes against the wooden theatre floors.  Lighting designers Tsang and Heather Lamb repeat the lighting design from last year’s production although I missed the low wintry light from the last production that was so effective in bringing in the cold.

Last night as I left the theatre I tweeted that I thought the show had lost a bit of its edge from the original production. In hindsight I realize I was not being entirely fair.  For audiences that did not have an opportunity to see last year’s production, you owe it to yourself to see it now.

In his notes playwright Minogue says he couldn’t be happier with what his first play has become.  I can’t either.

And while it still remains to be seen if v2.0 of Prodigals is good enough to make our top ten in 2011, I can safely say it is a contender.

4 out of 5 Stars Prodigals

By Sean Minogue.  Directed by Peter Boychuk.  A Twenty-Something Theatre / SFU Woodward’s Co-presentation.  On stage at the SFU Woodwards’ Studio T through May 14, 2011.  Tickets available from Tickets Tonight online, by calling 604.684.2787 or at the door..  Visit http://www.twentysomethingtheatre.com for more information.

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