BOTTOM LINE: Sweet, funny, touching, and really pretty depressing.
It sucks to be Joseph (Santino Fontana). He’s the poster-child for misfortune. At age 29, he has lost both parents and bears the responsibility of caring for his elderly uncle and teenage brother. His father’s very recent, maybe accidental death was the result of a teenage prank gone wrong — now the suspect’s future is largely in Joseph’s hands. Joseph also deals with the bigotry that comes with being gay and Lebanese in a not so open-minded town in Pennsylvania. On top of that, he is searching for medical answers to a number of health problems likely indicating something quite serious. In Stephen Karam’s new play, Sons of the Prophet, Joseph and his hardships are center stage; through humor and love we see him face it all, despite most odds stacked against him.
Fontana is quickly becoming a Broadway golden boy after a handful of tremendous performances (Brighton Beach Memoirs ,The Importance of Being Earnest) and a collection of accolades. Though Sons of the Prophet is an ensemble show, it is very much Joseph’s story. Fontana is perfectly suited in this role, giving Joseph a charming resilience that makes it clear why everyone relies on him. He’s never whiny, but inescapably tragic. The rest of the cast is equally appropriate with wonderful, nuanced performances all around. Particularly engaging are Joanna Gleason as Joseph’s widowed boss Gloria, and Chris Perfetti as Joseph’s younger (and also gay…what are the odds?) brother Charles.
Joseph is not alone in his suffering. Many characters in Sons of the Prophet are dealing with their own grief. Like we’re slowly ripping off a Band-Aid, everyone’s collective wounds are exposed as the play goes on. But there is some consolation in this, knowing that everyone can take comfort in the solidarity of their pain, and triumph regardless. Through Karam’s very funny script, Joseph and those close to him grow stronger as they persevere. The thread of compassion, knowing that there’s always someone who hurts worse than you, looms through the play.
A well-crafted script and smooth direction by Peter DuBois make Sons of the Prophet easy to watch, however the subject matter can be uncomfortable to digest. Joseph’s story is really, really sad, and though he never wears his despair, you can’t help but sympathize with his plight. The story might be about overcoming adversity and finding compassion for others, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing. Though it’s certainly a comedic play, Joseph’s life doesn’t seem like a laughing matter (except at the sheer absurdity that so much suffering should befall one upstanding human being). Sons of the Prophet is a successful production in many ways, but be prepared to unleash much of your own empathy.
(Sons of the Prophet plays at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, through December 23, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 7:30PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 7:30PM; and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $71-$81 and can be purchased at roundabouttheatre.org. If you are under 35, get cheaper tickets at hiptix.com. For more show information visit roundabouttheatre.org.)
Photo shows Santino Fontana and Joanna Gleason in SONS OF THE PROPHET. Photo by Joan Marcus.