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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SONS OF THE PROPHET
at the Laura Pels

CREATIVE LICENSE
By ROBERT CASHILL

  Santino Fontana and Joanna Gleason/ Ph: Joan Marcus

“That’s not right,” said a fellow audience member of the map positioned onstage before this Roundabout production began. Egypt, Bethlehem and Nazareth are featured, but no, it’s not the Holy Land, but rather points in northeastern and central Pennsylvania, where the show is set. This is the first example of playwright Stephen Karam’s skewed vision, with more to come as the show spins off in different directions.
 
Make that, too much more to come. The Lebanese-American Joseph Douaihy (Santino Fontana) works for book distributor Gloria (Joanna Gleason), a pill-popping depressive marooned in what’s left of steel country after personal and professional setbacks in Manhattan. Some of her pills she pops from Joseph, a former marathoner who is ill with a mysterious joint affliction. Gloria wants to storm her way back into New York with a book about Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, a very distant relative of Joseph’s. Joseph, knowing that what’s left of his family won’t participate in an autobiographical book about its history, keeps her at bay, as he needs the health insurance she politely threatens to withhold if he won’t cooperate.
 
That’s one thread. In due course we meet Joseph’s other relatives, who are too close for comfort in the same house. Charles (Chris Perfetti), his gay younger brother, loafs and cracks wise, and both try to stay out the way of their crabby uncle Bill (Yusef Bulos), whose health is slipping. Bill is particularly upset with Vin (Jonathan Louis Dent), a high-school football star whose prank may have led to the death of his brother, an incident that is soon to be the focus of a public hearing. Did I mention that Joseph is also gay? And that a handsome reporter (Charles Socarides) is after him for a story about his father’s death, and maybe more?
 
That’s how Karam works, layering new bits of plot atop the piece, trying to hook you thread by thread. The problem is that in time the foundation of the show is difficult to see beneath the minutiae. Nothing sinks in. Karam also relies too much on gay humor for easy laughs, and on Gleason, a wonderful actress making the best of an insubstantial part. The focus should be on the sad-sack Douaihys, and Fontana in particular has the skill to make something moving from their misfortunes, but the playwright seems apprehensive about making Sons of the Prophet too much of a downer.
 

Director Peter DuBois has staged the show cleverly, turning the entire theater into a community hearing room toward the end. On the whole, however, the production suffers from too much cleverness. You leave the theater puzzled, not knowing what it was about. That’s not right.     

 


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