“Cross Purposes” is a two man play which is set near and in Jerusalem during the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. The focus of this play is on Jestus and Dysmas, two con-men. Jestus and Dysmas were guilty of the murder of Lazarus and they are shocked, and a little relieved, by the reports that Lazarus is still alive. It doesn’t make any sense, because they know they killed him, but Lazarus is alive and this provides the opportunity to get away with the crime. Not only did they murder Lazarus, but they also stole some of his property. The play shifts scenes several times and works its way through Jesus’ final week. We are given glimpses of Jesus with his disciples and the Pharisees condemning Jesus. All of this is building and moving together to that Friday when Jesus is crucified and how this all comes together with Jestus and Dysmas.
While it seems that initially the play starts out with a lighter, almost comedic tone in the opening scenes, the power of the story and the impact of what is going on starts to come through. Barker calls this play “a theatrical celebration of Easter week, told through the eyes of the people who were present in Jerusalem at the time.” This play is intended for for production in a worship setting. This book contains instructions and suggestions for how the play be performed. The suggestions are along the lines of how to use the cast (written for two men, it can be performed by a larger cast) and brief comments on the staging of the play and props.
The potential problem with looking at a play as literature is that a play is ultimately intended to be viewed as a public performance, rather than reading the play privately. A well written play, however, will allow the reader to be able to visualize the play even though there is nobody performing it. “Cross Purposes” is such a play. I was able to “see” how this play could be staged and performed and feel the power of what it would be like to be in the audience for a production of “Cross Purposes.”
A note on my bias: I was a student at Northwestern College of Iowa where Jeff Barker is a professor in the theatre department. I was also a student of Barker’s in a playwriting class he taught in the fall of 1999. I have attended several on campus productions of his work and have always been impressed with the quality of his plays. Potentially, this has shaded my reading of “Cross Purposes” to view it favorably, but it is also with the understanding of the quality of work that Jeff Barker produces. This quality of work begins on the page but stretches through to the direction and production of the play. I feel that the quality is present in the script and this helps me visualize the quality of the production.