×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sons of the Prophet

Stephen Karam ("Speech & Debate") writes from an off-kilter sensibility that sees something bitterly funny in life's tragedies.

With:
Joseph - Santino Fontana Gloria - Joanna Gleason Charles - Chris Perfetti Bill - Yusef Bulos Timothy - Charles Socarides Vin - Jonathan Louis Dent

Stephen Karam (“Speech & Debate”) writes from an off-kilter sensibility that sees something bitterly funny in life’s tragedies. In his dark comedy, “Sons of the Prophet,” scribe uses the biblical misfortunes of a Lebanese-American family to make light of death, disease, and physical infirmity — and the compulsion of our cynical age to exploit all that misery for the commercial marketplace. Play is seriously entertaining, if a bit facile in wrapping up its themes.

Santino Fontana (“Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “The Importance of Being Earnest”) gives a standup perf as Joseph Douaihy, the Job-like character at the heart of this quirky family drama. Thesp wins unconditional sympathy for this sensitive gay introvert by tapping directly into the core of quiet strength behind his self-effacing manner.

Joseph shoulders the family burden after his father is killed in a freakish road accident in their Pennsylvania home town, the victim of a high-school kid’s dumb prank. But a mysterious illness attacking his joints has put severe limits on his ability to care for his teenaged brother, Charles (an endearing cutup in Chris Perfetti’s sharp perf), and their irascible Uncle Bill (Yusef Bulos, playing his heart out), whose own health is deteriorating.

These character-building trials and tribulations are embraced by Uncle Bill, who stoically reminds his nephews that “the Douaihys have a habit of dying tragically — like the Kennedys without the sex appeal.” In mute testimony to that macabre heritage, a picture of Lebanon’s patron saint, St. Rafka, hangs in an upstairs bedroom, blindly gazing out at them from empty and bloody eye sockets.

Joseph’s objective is to free himself from his family’s religious faith in the nobility of suffering, but the harder he resists, the greater the torments of his mysterious illness. He thinks he’s solved one problem, anyway, when he finds work — and the medical benefits that go with it — with the independent book packager Gloria Gurney (Joanna Gleason, monstrously funny). Gloria soon puts him straight: the job is conditional on his writing a memoir about his family connection to the mystic poet Kahlil Gibran, the prophet who preached spiritual bliss through suffering.

Even if it does capture the desperate state of the modern-day publishing industry, this is a preposterous idea for a book. But Karam advances his absurd joke with droll earnestness and Gleason finds endlessly inventive ways to work comic variations on it.

Meanwhile, an ambitious reporter shows up to capitalize on the family’s latest misfortune — a controversial legal decision on the father’s fatal auto accident. In ruling that the dumb jock responsible for the tragedy could put off his juvie detention sentence until the end of football season, a local judge raises disquieting questions about the relative value of one person’s suffering over another’s.

Helmer Peter DuBois (a.d. of Boston’s Huntington Theater, where this production originated) has found an appropriate comic tone of sweet insanity for portraying the woes that befall this hapless family. But despite the amiable spirit of the production, the play itself feels unfinished.

For all the amusing contortions that Gleason puts her through, Gloria is a one-dimensional character in a one-note role. The mysterious ailment that plagues Joseph and figures so prominently in the story is never identified. And the moral relativism of that judge’s controversial legal ruling is argued but left unresolved.

Karam is adept at identifying the moral struggles that have left this family battered and bruised, but his curious reluctance to resolve the issues he raises takes a good bit of the sting out of their suffering.

Popular on Variety

Sons of the Prophet

Laura Pels Theater; 409 seats; $81 tops

Production: A presentation of the Roundabout Theater Company, in association with the Huntington Theater Company, Boston, of a play in one act by Stephen Karam. Directed by Peter DuBois.

Creative: Sets, Anna Louizos; costumes, Bobby Frederick Tilley, II; lighting, Japhy Weideman; sound, M.L. Dogg; production stage manager, Leslie Sears. Opened Oct. 20, 2011. Reviewed Oct. 13. Running time: ONE HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast: Joseph - Santino Fontana Gloria - Joanna Gleason Charles - Chris Perfetti Bill - Yusef Bulos Timothy - Charles Socarides Vin - Jonathan Louis DentWith: Dee Nelson and Lizbeth Mackay

More Legit

  • Jonathan Groff

    Listen: Jonathan Groff Knows He's a Spitter

    If you’ve seen “Little Shop of Horrors” — the starry revival headlined by Jonathan Groff in a small Off Broadway theater — you probably noticed that Groff spits a lot when he speaks onstage. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s been a spitter as long as he can remember, but “Little Shop” [...]

  • Key Largo

    L.A. Theater Review: Andy Garcia in 'Key Largo'

    Would “Casablanca” make a good play? Guess what: It was first produced on stage as “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” How about “Key Largo,” the black-and-white Bogie-and-Bacall vehicle in which a handful of misfits find themselves trapped in a South Florida hotel while a hurricane rages outside? In fact, the 1948 John Huston film was adapted [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    How 'Beetlejuice: The Musical' Became a Broadway Turnaround Story

    Christopher Kuczewski is what you’d call a Netherling. It’s a reference to the netherworld inhabitants who populate “Beetlejuice: The Musical,” the off-beat adaptation of the 1988 hit film that’s becoming an unlikely Broadway turnaround story. And that designation, which has been given to superfans of the show, goes a long way towards explaining how a [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

  • Touching the Void review

    West End Review: 'Touching the Void'

    It shouldn’t work. Attempting to make effective theatre out of scaling a mountain, facing disaster thousands of feet up in the freezing cold and enduring a drawn-out facedown with death is surely a preposterous idea. Yet that is exactly what playwright David Grieg and director Tom Morris and his ideally meshed creative team have done. [...]

  • Hangmen review play

    Martin McDonagh’s 'Hangmen' Coming to Broadway in 2020

    Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen” will debut on Broadway this spring, the latest in a line of West End transfers to the Great White Way this year. The play, which focuses on the second-best executioner in Britain dealing with his government’s decision to abolish his favorite form of doing away with prisoners, will begin performances on Feb. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    Broadway Review: 'The Inheritance'

    The real hero of “The Inheritance,” Matthew Lopez’s thoughtful, moving and painfully funny play, is E.M. Forster, the celebrated English author of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View,” “A Passage to India,” and “Maurice,” that last a gay-themed novel published after his death in 1970. It’s quite the literary thrill to find the great [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content