Redbud’s "Prodigal Son" will draw on fine-tuned acting for intimate drama


Redbud Productions, Prodigal Son

Liam Weeks stars in Redbud Productions' Prodigal Son. Photo by Jason Page.

When Loretta Grimes saw an off-Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son in January 2016, she realized it had all the basic elements for a Redbud Productions staging. The cast was small, the story intimate, and the emotions intense.

She is directing the Redbud Productions' staging June 1-3 at the Kerrytown Concert House.

“For me, I loved the play in general, the characters were well-drawn, and the writing was excellent,” she said. “But I was mainly drawn to the main character, Jim Quinn, who is John Patrick Shanley as the play is autobiographical. I think what I like is that the character is such an underdog and I think we can all relate to that. He’s this rough, tough kid from the Bronx who goes to this prestigious Catholic school in New England, but it’s like fitting a round peg in a square hole.”

Shanley had been kicked out of his Catholic high school in the Bronx and sent away for some tough love to a school in the rural White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Shanley’s play tells a coming of age story about the progress of a street tough and troublemaker to a lauded screenwriter and playwright. In 1987 he won an Oscar for the critically acclaimed Cher-Nicholas Cage comedy Moonstruck. His play Doubt: A Parable won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2005. He wrote the screenplay and directed the film version of the play with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. In between those triumphs he has written screenplays for many films and seen many of his plays produced.

But before he reached those heights, he was being written off as too hard to handle. But he found refuge and inspiration at Thomas More School.

“He’s such a genius,” Loretta Grimes said. “He went there from 1965 to 1968. I think what’s amazing is he made it through. It was not an easy process, but everyone he touched was moved by him. He made a difference in their lives. I don’t even know if they knew they were stagnating but he sort of forced growth to their lives.”

This life-changing interaction is a theme that is central to the Redbud Productions of Tim and Loretta Grimes, which are an outgrowth of their acting classes.

“Loretta and I met in acting classes in New York and started acting classes,” said Tim Grimes (also an AADL employee). “We do a shows a couple times a year where we always use people in our classes. So we look for shows and think, 'Well, that person would fit in that part,' and to us, the performance is the icing on the cake. What we think about is the journey. The classes teach you a lot about emotion and what other people are feeling.”

The acting classes are based on the theories of Sanford Meisner.

“It’s teaching actors to be open, honest, and connected, pretending to feel emotion but using real emotion to feed their work,” said Loretta Grimes. “The end result is very honest. Meisner teaches you to actively listen and the end result is good ensemble acting.”

When the Grimes saw the play in New York, they already began casting in their minds. They already had their Jim Quinn in Liam Weeks. Weeks, now in his 20s, has been taking classes with the Grimes since high school.

Tim Grimes takes the role of Carl Schmitt, headmaster at Thomas More, who struggles with how to deal with such a rebellious student who the regular Catholic system couldn’t handle.

“He’s kicked out for telling the head of the school that he doesn’t believe in God. Awful grades, can’t sit still, gets into fights. But the headmaster takes him and he still drinks, fights, steals in this strict Catholic school, but also reads 'The Waste Land' and has come to school with a book of Freud,” Tim Grimes said.

T.S. Eliot’s famous poem is a central focus of Quinn’s development.

The headmaster has taken the young man in but soon has his doubts.

“There are all these things happening that I can’t pin down,” Tim Grimes said. “There are things missing, there are things broken, there are missing booze bottles. I can’t get him to admit that it was him. I want him to be honest but if he’s honest and says he did those things I would have to kick him out of the school because you must follow the guidelines.”

But young Jim Quinn has his supports including the headmaster’s wife and co-founder of the school Louise Schmitt played by Deb Wood and a sympathetic teacher Alan Hoffman, played by Nate Brassfield. Chris Krenz plays Quinn’s roommate, Austin Schmitt, a nephew of the Schmitts.

The play will be performed in the tight confines of the Kerrytown Concert Hall.

At their home the Grimes have taped out a rehearsal stage based on the dimensions at Kerrytown, a big downsize from the Riverside Playhouse in Ypsilanti, where they used to perform. But the new space seems to fit the true aims of their teaching and of Shanley deeply personal play.

“What we love is the focus because it is such an intimate venue and emphasizes the acting and that’s what we love,” Loretta Grimes said.

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

John Patrick Shanley’s "Prodigal Son" will be presented June 1-3 at 8 pm at the Kerrytown Concert House. For reservations, call 734-769-2999 or visit