In the parable of the Prodigal Son, a man seeks his inheritance, wastes it, returns home, and is welcomed back with open arms. A Memphis playwright added a twist to this story and turned it into a gospel stage play, which debuted July 12th at the West Memphis Civic Auditorium.
T.L. Gathen, a business applications advisor at FedEx and president of Majestic Kingdom Melodies (MKM) Productions, wrote “From a Mess to a Miracle.” It follows A.J. Clarkesdale (Jarvis Taylor), who returns home after hitting rock bottom, hoping to be welcomed back into his father’s house and TV station. However, his stepmother, Gertrude Clarkesdale (Jennifer Gomez), is not happy about him interrupting the life she and her son, Reggie (Malik Walker), have with A.J.’ s father, Andrew (Rodney Burns), and A.J. has to move in with his church-going Aunt Maxine (Joann Bell).
“The inspiration for “From a Mess to a Miracle” would be some of the things I’ve seen growing up, where families have challenges…with blended families you have challenges because there’s a sibling struggle and battle between stepmother and kids…I thought it would be something that would minister to different families,” Gathen said.
“A main message would be for people who’ve had challenges in their life to know that God still loves them, and they have another chance at life, but … there’s still going to be challenges.…”
Driven by passion for music and theater, Gathen founded MKM in 2007 with the release of the CD, “A Songwriter’s Heart.” This is Gathen’s third production. His two previous productions – “Everybody’s Got a Story” and “Artificial Turf” – both were in Arkansas.
Gathen is committed to giving back and providing a stepping-stone for people interested in entertainment. His plays are in Arkansas because he’s from there, has many friends and family there, and it’s affordable.
“When I first started I was trying to capture everything I thought a stage play should consist of. I probably had too many plots. …I’ve learned to narrow it down. … The very last one is probably the best in terms of being more complete…it involves more aspects of Christian ministry,” Gathen said.
New to MKM
Husband and wife team Jennifer and Cesar Gomez, Gathen’s cousins, portrayed characters Gertrude Clarkesdale and Gertrude’s ex, Dr. Warren Daniels.
They were nervous, with neither having been in a production before, but gained confidence working with Gathen.
“The best way I can describe working with Tommy in this production is excellence, integrity, and having a mentality to want to do it right…Tommy would always give confirmation to us that we could do it,” Cesar Gomez said.
“He was tactful. I appreciated his dedication to his vision, and that he didn’t lose sight of that,” Jennifer Gomez said.
“I decided to join MKM because I had never been a part of a production that was focused on ministry, and since I like ministry and acting, I figured that I could really have a connection working with MKM,” said Dominique Walker, who plays intern Diana.
MKM is serious about ministering to people and giving a message through plays, said Walker, who had a small role in Gathen’s “Artificial Turf.” The latest production allowed her to have a bigger role and another chance to affect people.
“The result you get from every production, seeing how it affects people… and how they are touched by the message, makes the experience better,” said Walker.
For Rodney Burns, playing the father of a troubled son in the production was not difficult.
“I had a stepson, and he went through a lot of the things that A.J. did. So, it was déjà vu
in a way,” Burns said.
“Mr. Gathen is a very good professional. He works until he gets what he needs out of the actor. I’ve learned a lot just by being around him.”
MKM allows Gathen to work with his family. His wife videotapes and coordinates things with the patrons.
Gathen has high hopes for the future.
“I hope to continue with additional productions. … I’d like to expand service to the community in terms of scholarships and opportunities for young people interested in the arts,” he said.
“(I want) a building block for people interested in the arts.”