‘Prodigal Father’ a rich story

LIHUE — You know how some plays start out so slow and you start to think that perhaps you would have been better off to stay home and rent that movie from Redbox? But you bought that ticket, you’re in your seat along with everyone else, the doors are closed, and some of the cast are on stage, just a few feet away from you. You’re thinking maybe you could sneak out at intermission.

Well, that won’t be a problem when you see “Prodigal Father” at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse.

The play written and directed by Richard Peck grabs you from the opening scene in a New York hotel room, when Jim Clayton (played perfectly by Jeff Demma) climbs out of bed, answers the phone and pulls on his pants. Yep, Prodigal Father is only a minute into the story and he’s only wearing his skivvies, looking hungover and calling room service for a pot of coffee.

It gets even better from there.

The story flows easily. It is well-told and holds your attention. The writing is sharp and smart, the kind of conversations real people would have. The cast becomes the characters. It’s not like you’re watching actors. Each has a story that makes you want to know more about them, that makes you root for each of them. There are not bad guys here. Characters with flaws, yes. Characters with heart, absolutely.

Prodigal Father, presented by Kauai Community Players, tells the story of an ailing Jim Clayton, a successful author, sailor and adventurer who is looking to establish a relationship with his by-the-books, business-like, attorney son, Larry Burns (played by Chris Alderete). Carol Ryder (played by Nicole Cowan) is Clayton’s publicity person and girlfriend to Burns, Gloria “One” (played by Jo Grande) is Clayton’s partner while Gloria “Two” (played by Erin Gaines) is a young actress and dancer befriended by Clayton.

Grande delivers many of the most meaningful lines and you can at times feel her heartache and feel her joy. Her smile is one of warmth. She is charming and at other times, loud and direct. She is, it seems, the wisest of the bunch and sees what others don’t. You’ll like her and want her to be your friend, too.

Gaines brings an energy to the stage. She is an uninhibited, free spirit who sees the best in people, not the worst. You get the idea she isn’t the smartest person in the room, but she is the one who is happy and optimistic and hopefully, bound for good things.

Cowan is caught in the middle of her boyfriend’s anger and resentment toward his father; her job to get the charismatic Clayton to his book signings on time; Clayton’s efforts to reconcile with his son, and Gloria Two’s flirtation with Burns. Cowan holds it all together, the anchor, the one person out of this group you can most likely count on. She is pulled in many directions, but never breaks.

Demma and Alderete deliver strong performances as a father and son, both haunted by and struggling to deal with a broken bond many years before. They are different men with nearly opposite lifestyles, but both are also stubborn and set in their ways. It seems unlikely the wall between them can be toppled. Men don’t forgive easily. Gradually, as Burns lets down his guard and his defenses, as a lifetime of anger of wanting to know why his father gave him up when he was a boy, melts away, he forgives his father and accepts his outreached arms.

In one way, Prodigal Father might seem the usual story of estranged father and son getting to know each other again. But it will surprise you with turns here and there. It’s kind of like driving on a country road to a relative’s house. You know where it leads, but you don’t know for sure what you’ll pass along the way. And sometimes, that uncertainly turns out to be something spectacular.

This weekend is your last chance to see the two-act play, so go.

Prodigal Father performances are scheduled 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $22 at the door, $20 in advance through BrownPaperTickets.com.

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