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‘Prodigal Son’ review: Timothée Chalamet ignites Shanley play

Timothée Chalamet plays a 15-year-old from the Bronx

Timothée Chalamet plays a 15-year-old from the Bronx who's been accepted into a New England prep school in "Prodigal Son." Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Prodigal Son”

WHERE Manhattan Theatre Club Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St.

INFO $90; 212-581-1212; nycitycenter.org

BOTTOM LINE Breakout young actor, bizarre vanity from Shanley

It is hard not to wish that John Patrick Shanley had resisted the impulse to include an author’s note in the program of “Prodigal Son.” Without identifying the 90-minute memory play as autobiographical, we could have been left to ourselves to fall in love, or not, with the troubled but brilliant 15-year-old protagonist from the Bronx and not have to deal with Shanley’s admiration for his fascinating, handsome, poetic young self.

Even knowing that, however, we are deeply in the thrall of Timothée Chalamet. The gifted actor, with his long, floppy limbs, dangerous energy and fierce dare-you eyes, is giving a breakout performance, embodying layers of the contradictions and complexities of a fish-out-of-water kid who, temporarily, gets rescued as a blue-color token by a prestige private school in New Hampshire.

Shanley, the Pulitzer-winning creator of “Doubt” and many other challenging works, ably directs this one on Santo Loquasto’s magical rural set with the mansion school in the distance. The production also includes the welcome stage return of Robert Sean Leonard, so good as the supportive teacher that we wince at the cliché Shanley’s memory forces him to become.

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