Based on a true story, Tyler Civic Theatre’s world premiere of “The Disappearance of Maud Crawford” is a murder mystery full of conspiracies and fascinating suspects.
Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the theater, 400 Rose Park Drive. Tickets can be bought at the box office or online at tylercivictheatre.com.
Maud Crawford, the first female lawyer in Arkansas, disappeared without a trace in 1957 in Camden, Arkansas. Her body was never found.
“This play is based on a mystery that I have heard about ever since I was small child,” playwright Jill Bradley said. “Bringing a story to life that is an important part of the lore of my mother’s childhood home is very exciting to me.”
Bradley said “Maud” is a mixture of genres.
“It encompasses true crime and creative fiction,” she said. “I pulled inspiration from many different theatrical genres. The play has Greek, noir, and Southern gothic elements.”
The play won Tyler Civic Theatre’s New Play Festival this year.
Amanda Spangler, coordinator and producer of the festival, said she is excited to help bring to stage new works.
“Everyone starts somewhere and who knows Jill Bradley could be the next Shakespeare in modern day,” Spangler said.
Traci Smith, who plays Crawford, did research to be true to the character.
“She (Maud) is strong willed and head strong and wants things done right,” Smith said. “If she thinks someone is being taken advantage of, she wants to stand up for them. ... Maud is a tough lady but she also has a softer side that you can see is in her when you see how she cares about her friends and (husband) Clyde.”
Smith is intrigued with the story.
“(This) is a genuine mystery story because she was never found, she said. “Not a trace of her was ever found, not a body, nothing. There are theories (of what happened) and the show has a lot of theories that it portrays, but we really don’t know.”
Allen Higginbotham plays Crawford’s husband, Clyde. He described Clyde as a “semi-sentimental, semi-overly emotional character, someone who likes to have a little drink every once in a while - like every couple of hours.”
He said Clyde “changes as the evening goes on and the drunker he gets. I have sober moments and slightly not so sober moments, and towards the end he is pretty drunk so the challenge is knowing how to do that without being too drunk at the wrong time and knowing how to show your drunk.”
Jacob Gillard said his character, detective Odis Henley, is hard to play because he is “close to perfect” and a good man.
“He always makes the right decision and he always stands up for the right thing,” Gillard said. “That’s a lot harder than people say it is.”
Justin Purser, who plays Commissioner Mike Berg, said the play presents intimate relationships.
“It’s fun to be able to have those relationships on stage that are so real because this is based on a true story,” he said.
Director Hannah Johnson is a fan of murder mystery and crime genres.
“So this has been touching my inner sleuth trying to figure out all of the mysteries,” she said.
Johnson noted that the play offers a rare chance to see a world premiere based on a true story. “And who doesn’t like a murder mystery.”