Written and directed by Dr. David Crawford, Tyler Junior College professor of theatre, “Prodigal” is a modern retelling of the story of the impertinent young son who demands his inheritance from his father so that he can go and live a carefree life. Naturally, the son’s independence does not last long and soon he, now destitute and desperate, comes crawling back to his father, much to the chagrin and disapproval of his older brother.
“Prodigal,” however, introduces a few notable twists to the familiar trappings. Most notably, instead of a non-descript wealthy father, we have Will Briley, a wealthy East Texas rancher. Instead of a disapproving oldest son, Will has a daughter, Chrissy.
But what makes “Prodigal” feel notably different, Crawford said, is in the way it purports that the story is not so much about the reckless young son as it is the judgmental older sibling.
“Three or four years ago, I was reading Tim Keller’s book, ‘Prodigal God,’ and it just grabbed a hold of my imagination. He was dealing with the fact that in the parable, people always focus on the youngest son,”
Crawford said. “But Keller was tearing it apart and putting it back together and saying that the story is not the youngest son, it’s about the older son. And I had never really stopped to think that much about it. So I read the book again, and then I read it again, and I listened to other sermons and talks on it and I thought, ‘That’s a lot of drama there.’ So I started playing with the idea and fashioning a story.”
Crawford said he drew largely from his own familial experiences growing up and that it was a bit arresting coming to some of the realizations he did while writing the play.
Crawford wanted this to be a production significantly different from his other plays and thusly he has taken a supra-minimalist approach to set and production design and employing a more cinematic approach to story structure.
“I didn’t want an old, tried and true dramatic structuring of it. I wanted to sort of step it up in moving through time and space, so it became much more of a cinematic structure but bridging the gaps with transitions,”
he said. “It’s not the surrounding or the spectacle or the technical, it’s what’s going on between the characters and you’re focusing the audience right there without going back to borrowing from Thornton Wilder.
You’re stripping away all of the noise and anything that would distract them and leaving them with the words.”
Much of the minimalist style was inspired by a recent trip to New York City to watch the Broadway production of “War Horse.” Crawford said he hopes this minimalist approach will help the audience to perhaps project a bit more of their own experiences onto what’s going on on-stage.
“You fill in the gaps. It’s left up to your imagination. How well are we going to do that? I don’t know. What I am hoping is that the audience is going to learn something about themselves because of what happens in this,” he said.
There initially was some trepidation on Crawford’s part as he, a dedicated churchgoer, was unsure how some might react to his interpretation of the story.
“I was left wondering if the play would be accepted. Would it be seen as a valid interpretation? Would my church brethren accept that I curse on stage,” Crawford said. “I just want to give you something to lift us up to another level, to make us look at ourselves and ask, ‘Are you better after a lifetime of blaming everybody but yourself?’”
“Prodigal” will continue its run tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday matinee will be held at 2 p.m. All other performances begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Jean Browne Theater on the TJC campus. Admission is $5.