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Theater & Dance

John Patrick Shanley's Teenage Angst

John Patrick Shanley's Teenage Angst

Prodigal son play broadway
Timothee Chalamet as Jim Quinn (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The award-winning playwright and director remembers his own adolescence in a new production.

Best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay Moonstruck and his Tony- (and Pulitzer Prize-) winning play Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick Shanley returns to the Off-Broadway stages with Prodigal Son. The stark yet endearing autobiographical one-act play makes its world premiere this week at New York City Center.

Having been expelled from a local Catholic school, Jim Quinn, a 17-year old boy from The Bronx, is sent away to Thomas More Preparatory School, located on the top of a remote mountain in New Hampshire. Over the course of two years, the faculty members struggle to allay the worst of Jim's violent and explosive behavior, while nurturing and shaping his vibrant intellect.

Played with mesmerizing charisma and tangible angst, Timothee Chalamet's troubled and impetuous Jim Quinn is a fascinating character. Often breaking the fourth wall, he directly addresses the audience, allowing us to better understand his motives, desires, and thought process. As an inner-city youth who is comfortable alienating himself from his peers and adults, it's easy for him to offend others. In spite of that, Alan Hoffman (played by Robert Sean Leonard, below), the head of the English department, sees promise and potential hidden behind the young boy's antics.

Prodigal Son Play
Robert Sean Leonard as Allan Hoffman (Photo: Joan Marcus)

As the play progresses, Hoffman starts to advocate for the youth, asking faculty members to reach out to the pupil despite his sullied sentiments about the boy. Early in the play, there's contention over Jim wearing a sweatshirt that reads "Pray For War." We learn that the sweatshirt is a gift from his brother, an active-duty Marine serving in Vietnam.

Shanley's direction truly highlights Prodigal Son as a bildungsroman. Jim's life is decided for him by all of the adults that he interacts with. In this coming-of-age story, Chalamet brings sparkling vibrancy to Jim's inner conflict. Across the 95-minute run-time, the audience sees the boy growing into a man. Most importantly, Jim's struggles mirror our own. We all have had conflicts of faith and identity, and Jim's words sound astutely correct when he tells the audience "I was 15. Do you remember 15? For me, it was a special, beautiful room in hell."

Prodigal Son runs through March 27, 2016 at New York City Center - Stage I, 131 West 55th Street. For tickets and more information, please visit

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