Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sons of the Prophet ****

Stephen Karam brings a fresh new voice to the theater in this drama with strong comic overtones, now in a Roundabout production at the Laura Pels Theatre. The play introduces us to the Douaihys, a Lebanese-American family in northeast Pennsylvania, whose lives are repeatedly touched by adversity. In order to get health insurance, Joseph (the superb Santino Fontana), a gay man in his late 20s who has been experiencing knee problems and mysterious neurological symptoms, has accepted a job as assistant to Gloria (the always wonderful Joanna Gleason), a lonely, neurotic editor who has been exiled from literary New York for publishing a memoir that turned out to be a fake. Joseph's younger brother Charles (Chris Perfetti), who was born with one ear missing, is flamboyantly gay and a geography buff. Their mother has died years before. Their father dies as a result of a high school prank that goes awry. Their uncle Bill (Yusef Bulos) suffers from a debilitating disease and moves in with them. The local school board must decide whether to allow Vin (Jonathan Louis Dent), whose prank led to the father's death, to finish the football season. Timothy (Charles Socarides), an ambitious reporter assigned to cover the school board hearing, has a liaison with Joseph. The prophet of the title refers to Kahlil Gibran's classic. The Douaihys are distantly related to Gibran and Gloria thinks she can turn that relationship into a book that will redeem her publishing career. Each scene begins with a chapter title from Gibran's book. One of the refrains from the book, "all is well," is an ironic comment on the family's travails. There are many funny moments. Most of the play's conversations are wonderfully off-kilter. Joseph's attempt to navigate the voice mail system of a medical office is hilarious. The playwright resists the temptation to tie up all the loose ends neatly, which better reflects real life. Seeing a loving family on stage is a rare treat these days. The cast is uniformly excellent, including Dee Nelson and Lizbeth Mackay who play multiple roles. The set design by Anna Louizos works well, Bobby Frederick Tilley II's costumes are fine, and Peter DuBois's direction is excellent. My one quibble is that a scene in which the prankster visits the family falls flat. All in all, the play is certainly one of the highlights of the Fall season. Running time: 1hour 45 minutes. No intermission.

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