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Acclaimed Playwright Brings His Work Back To The Blank Theatre
Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet was a major off-Broadway success in 2012, earning rave reviews, winning major awards and finishing as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. When works of this pedigree come to Los Angeles, they usually end up in one of our larger institutional theater venues like the Taper, the Geffen or the Kirk Douglas. This play, though, has just opened in the tiny Blank Theatre Company space in Hollywood.
The Blank, it so happens, is where Karam was discovered as an unknown 17-year-old from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who had entered one of his early plays in the company's Young Playwrights Festival competition. Artistic Director Daniel Henning knew he had found a winner as soon as he read the script and brought the awestruck teenager out here for a professional staging of the piece. And Karam has called the Blank his LA home ever since.
Though dutifully promoted as a comedy ("the funniest play about human suffering you're likely to see" promises the production flyer), Sons of the Prophet actually provides a pretty grim exemplar of the Tolstoyan dictum that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The Douaihys are a proud Maronite clan, settled in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, who also happen to be distant relatives of best-selling prophet Kahlil Gibran. The play opens with the fatal car crash of the family patriarch, whose vehicle swerved after a local high school football star (Mychal Thompson) placed a deer head in the middle of a road as a prank.
Newly orphaned son Joseph Douaihy (Adam Silver), a former athlete in his late 20s, suffers from a mysterious condition that has him in near-constant pain, and he also now has to be the one to look after his irascible, ailing uncle Bill (Jack Laufer) and younger brother Charles (Braxton Molinaro). What's more, Joseph's loopy literary agent boss Gloria (Tamara Zook), whom he depends on for health insurance, insists that they collaborate on a book project exploiting the family's Gibran connection, which makes no sense to the Douaihys at all.
Director Michael Matthews emphasizes the surviving men's disinclination to wallow in self-pity or resignation even as the discomfort of their circumstances intensifies. Joseph is overwhelmed but not broken by his misfortunes, and Silver doesn't overplay either either the strength or the suffering or his character. Erik Odom provides a forceful counterpoint in the smaller role of a manipulative TV reporter who hooks up with Joseph and then betrays him. The play ends with a moment of grace for Joseph that struck us as somewhat unearned and out of sync with everything that comes before it.
Like the Biblical figure of Job, Karam's Douaihy family endures a series of undeserved tribulations that could beset almost any American family. With no undue sentimentality, they respond to these difficulties as almost any of us would hope to—by staying together and living through them.