All the critics I have read have interpreted Stephen Karam's lovely play SONS OF THE PROPHET at a play about pain and suffering. To me, it is a play about learning compassion.
Twenty-nine-year-old Lebanese-American Joseph Douiahy, a resident of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, has a lot of problems. At work in a small book-packaging firm, he deals with an eccentric, emotionally needy boss (superbly played by Joanna Gleason). At home he has an eighteen-year-old gay brother who needs some looking after, and a helpless, aged uncle who claims to have moved in to take care of his nephews, but has to be cared for. Joseph used to train to be an Olympic runner, but injuries have destroyed that dream. He is grieving for his father was recently killed as a result of a high-school prank gone wrong. He is also suffering from pains that may be psychosomatic or the sign of a serious illness. But Joseph is so wrapped up in his suffering that he is merciless about the feelings of those around him. He is nasty to his uncle and the handsome young reporter he sleeps with and he ignores the calls from his boss. Finally, at the end of the play, one senses that Joseph is beginning to learn compassion -- that everyone is hurting and deserves some kindness. At the same time, ironically, Joseph ends up benefitting from his nastiness thanks to a YouTube video of a very public meltdown.
My description sounds a bit sappy, but this is not a sappy play. SONS OF THE PROPHET is very funny, but deeply touching at the same time. Karam sees the good and the self-serving in his characters but makes us care for all of them.
The production, directed by Peter Dubois, couldn't be better. I can only join all the critics who have raved about Santino Fontana's performance as Joseph, but the rest of the cast is also excellent. It's just that Fontana gives one of those performances that are truly memorable, totally inhabiting his character. It's the best of many fine performances I saw in the past year in the best new play I saw in 2011.
SONS OF THE PROPHET by Stephen Karam, directed by Peter Dubois. Roundabout Laura Pels Theatre, New York.