We begin with the arrival of an infant girl to the middle eastern town of Provision. The motherʼs dying wish, as conveyed by a veiled messenger, is for the child to be given a home. In his hands, that famous parableʼs Elder Son holds the motherʼs letter, the fate of the infant, and the fate of the infantʼs father, his own infamous brother.
This is not the storyʼs beginning, of course. The trouble began some three years earlier on the eve of the Younger Sonʼs 18th birthday. Itʼs the Elder Son who has the most to lose when little brother asks, impetuously and without precedent, for their father to settle his sizeable estate while the Father is alive and in his prime. In the modern west where 18- year-olds often require the sum of their inheritance up front in the form of university tuition, itʼs hard to appreciate how audacious such a request was in that time and place – even worthy of punishment. The Father tops his sonʼs audacity by saying yes, scandalizing the civic and religious leaders of the town. Upon liquidating his portion of the inheritance, the Younger Son is run out of provision. The Elder Son heads a mob of townsfolk, damning his brother to hell and cursing him never to return.
Defiantly and gleefully, the Younger Son sets off on a wild adventure. He stumbles upon a caravan to Egypt, and meets the Young Woman, a trader who woos him on a spending spree. The Young Woman is so winning and the Younger Son so easily won that their feisty affection for each other moves beyond good customer relations. In his bravado and naivete, the Younger Son seeks to rescue the Young Woman from what appears to him to be a slave- like existence. In order to do so, he must face off with her owner and master, the Uncle.
The Elder Son and the town of provision are greatly altered by the Younger Sonʼs parting and the subsequent famine. The Father holds out hope for renewed fortune for Provision, but the Elder Son and members of the town have succumbed to cynicism and despair. Meanwhile, the abandoned Young Woman discovers that she is with child and contemplates her own life and the likely ill fate of another one like her. Having met his match in the Uncle, the Younger Son lands in a prison camp. He makes a break, barely escaping with his life, and heads for home.
In perhaps the best-known moment of the parable, the Younger Son makes his way past the Elder Son, at work in the drought-ravaged fields, to find his fatherʼs ecstatic embrace. The Father runs out ahead of the outraged townsfolk who charge with sticks to block the banished young man from reentry. The Fatherʼs acceptance of his somewhat contrite, still conniving son is not a private, sentimental act, but a fiery, public vindication of his magnanimous love for his children. Rather than grant the sonʼs request to be a paid servant, the Father throws a homecoming party. The Townsfolk relent in celebration of their beloved neʼer-do- well.
The original parable ends abruptly, and incompletely, outside the festivities after the Elder Son returns from a futile dayʼs labor. The Father entreats him to come into the party. What follows instead is the Elder Sonʼs rageful tirade against his father, the town, and the God he holds responsible for his unjust and bitter fate.
Some months after the return of the younger son follows the infant girl delivered by the Messenger, who later that evening abandons the child to her fate. Will the Elder Son, now the master of his fatherʼs house, take in the child – the fruit of his brotherʼs prodigal journey? Or will he refuse mercy and get his final, religiously justifiable revenge? A final showdown with his brother leads him to confront his own terrorized and murderous heart. The final minutes of the play hold surprises for the Elder Son (and the audience), as he embraces his own storyʼs unexpected and happy ending.