July 9, 2007

Lucky for us, summer has brought two plays that actually are exciting, in their very different ways. At the ever-enterprising Mint, director Jonathan Bank has unearthed St. John Hankin’s 1905 comedy The Return of the Prodigal. How could a play this funny and obnoxious have gone a century without being staged in New York? It relocates the parable of the prodigal son to the home of an English industrialist, adding a lively twist: Young Eustace turns out to have the work ethic of Ferris Bueller and the moral compass of Kenny Lay.

What follows is two hours of bickering, extortion, and social critique. As Eustace’s family toys with the un-biblical notion of kicking his slacker ass out, he reminds them that Father’s political ambitions and Brother’s society romance would be ruined by the scandal. Eustace owes his sly charm to the terrific Roderick Hill, a pallid blond with a wardrobe full of loungewear and a wicked gleam in his eye: Beck as a bond trader. In my favorite scene, Eustace flirts with his brother’s girl by sharing the social-Darwinist view that the poor must suffer and die so the rich can thrive. “How horrible,” she cries. “Yes,” he says, plucking a flower from his mother’s garden and presenting it to her with a smile, “but how necessary.”