Feature

Sons of the Prophet

Stephen Karam's “low-profile offering” about a Lebanese-American family's misfortunes is probably the best play of the season.

Laura Pels Theatre
New York
(212) 719-1300 

***

Theatergoers ought to count themselves lucky if they stumble upon this “marvelous and moving” tragicomedy about a family’s misfortunes, said Jesse Oxfeld in The New York Observer. Amid a slew of star-studded Broadway openings, this “low-profile offering” by a young playwright is probably the best play of the season. Drawing from his own background, Stephen Karam created the Douaihys, a Lebanese-American family residing in eastern Pennsylvania. They’re distantly related to the poet Khalil Gibran, who is famous for serenely declaring in his 1923 book, The Prophet, that “all is well” with the world. The irony is not lost on brothers Joseph and Charles that, for the Douaihys, all is decidedly not well.

The death of their father in a car accident triggered by pranksters is just the first of the brothers’ woes, said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. Once an aspiring Olympian, Joseph is “ravaged by a series of strange ailments” that require ruinously expensive diagnostic testing. After his father’s death, he must also take care of 18-year-old Charles, listen to the narcissistic ramblings of his boss, and try to remain calm when the sentencing of one of the pranksters is delayed so the culprit can play out the high school football season. On paper, the play “may sound top-heavy with plot and character.” But the way Karam lets events snowball underscores “the indiscriminate nature of misfortune”—how “one calamity does not immunize you from the next.”

Karam has cleverly inverted the rules of “standard comic anarchy,” said John Lahr in The New Yorker. While even the most chaos-ridden plays usually return to the status quo by the finale, Karam’s “sly, subversive brand of laughter dares to assert that that is not how the world works.” Led by a nimbly emotive Santino Fontana as Joseph, the “uniformly excellent cast” brings out the script’s “delicate weave of the spoken and unspoken, the outrageous and the unconscionable.” If the play’s message isn’t optimistic, it at least proves that facing grief with black humor “is one way to ease its terrible grip.”

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