note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
They say successful authors write about what they know best or what is most meaningful to them. In playwright Stephen Karam’s “Sons of the Prophet,” currently making its world premiere with the Huntington Theatre Company at the Wimberly Theatre, Karam explores several biographical subjects, but stops short. Instead of focusing on the play’s pathos, sadness, and strong statements about today’s skewed society, Karam works hard to evoke laughs.
Karam, who is Lebanese-American, gay, and grew up in the Scranton, Pa. area, where his play is set, started writing “Sons” in 2006, developed it in 2007, and prepared it for its premiere in Boston, before it heads to Roundabout Theatre Company in New York this fall.
Karam’s characters are interesting, but underdeveloped. This Lebanese-American family living in declining Nazareth, Pa. in 2006-7, is descended from great poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran; but Joseph, 29, and Charles, 18, downplay that significance.
The opening scene is jarring, sensational. Tires screech, followed by a deafening crash, after a car veers to avoid hitting a deer. The “deer” is actually a decoy that a popular high school football player placed in the road, on a dare.
Unfortunately, Joseph and Charles‘ father, a proud Lebanese-American widower and former steel worker, is rushed to the hospital, where, after a week, he dies of a heart attack. Did the crash cause his ultimate demise?
Joseph (Kelsey Kurz) works for Gloria, (Joanna Gleason) a ditsy widowed publisher, with an estranged son. Claiming she’s clinically depressed, Gloria is looking for a big story to publish. She has been fooled twice into printing stories that aren’t true.
Joseph, a former marathon runner who has developed serious physical pain, endures Gloria’s wackiness because he needs medical benefits, which she provides. He undergoes several medical tests, but we question whether his ailments are psychosomatic or real.
Although Joseph is gay, he’s discreet; however, Charles, (Dan McCabe) is overt. Charles comes onto Vin,(Jonathan Louis Dent), the biracial, handsome, muscular football player facing criminal charges. He contritely requests meeting the family to apologize, hoping they’ll support his chances of playing the rest of the season before his trial. He prepared a written apologetic statement to read to them.
Vin has no worries, though. The judge granted him permission to finish the season (based on an actual case that occurred in Ohio). Vin, a foster child, also hopes the family won’t hinder his chances of earning a college scholarship. The public hearing devolves into a small-town circus.
Joseph meets somebody exciting, too - at the bus station, where they’re temporarily snowed in. Timothy, (Charles Socarides), 30, a worldly traveler and TV newscaster, is in town, covering the hearings and trial, looking for a scoop, but scoops up Joseph instead. Later, we learn the two are connected to the same person.
Then, there’s ailing Uncle Bill, (Yusef Bulos) a diehard, old school Catholic Marmonite and Lebanese Archie Bunker of sorts, whose prejudicial comments surface regularly. Although he has great pride in his heritage, he rebuffs Gloria’s request to write about his family’s memoirs.
Multi-award winning Joanna Gleason as Gloria is fantastic, as is veteran actor Bulos and the rest of the cast, including Dee Nelson and Lizbeth Mackay in lesser roles.
Joseph seeks additional medical treatment, Gloria writes her own story, and everything else is left, suspended. “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked,” Gibran wrote. There’s a thin line between joy and sadness. But in this desultory play, it blurs.
BOX INFO: Two-act dark comedy, written by Stephen Karam, directed by Peter DuBois; appearing with the Huntington Theatre Company through May 1, at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; select Sundays at 7 p.m.; matinees, select Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $25-$65; senior military, subscriber, BU Community discounts, others. Call 617-266-0800, visit huntingtontheatre.org, the BU Box Office at 264 Huntington Ave., or the BCA.