By Charlene Baldridge
Joseph Douaihy, who works in a Nazareth, Pennsylvania, book-packaging house, has an undiagnosed illness that manifests itself in several troublesome ways. Formerly a runner in training for the Olympic tryouts, he is able to walk only through the use of knee braces. His father is recently deceased, perhaps as the result of a freak accident and high school prank. The homosexual Joseph also contends with a challenging, ailing uncle; a flaming 18-year-old brother; and a boss, crazed by her own grief, who wants to capitalize on the Douaihys’ blood relationship with Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran.
Produced by Cygnet Theatre and directed by newly appointed associate artistic director Rob Lutfy, Stephen Karam’s 2011 off-Broadway play, “Sons of the Prophet,” is as inscrutable as Joseph’s illness. Both Lutfy and the playwright are of Lebanese descent. The show runs through Feb. 14.
When all is said and done — and a lot is said and done — “Sons of the Prophet” is a raging, outrageous comedy about the tragedies that befall the Douaihy family — a litany worthy of the Bible’s Book of Job. On top of being intelligent and witty and indicative of an immigrant culture that manned the Pennsylvania steel mills, Lutfy’s 1,000 mph production is well cast and directed, especially in the case of the exceptional newcomer Alex Hoeffler in the role of the principal sufferer. Because Joseph is the only competent one left standing, he considers himself responsible for taking care of the others when he can’t even care for himself. Certain times in life are overwhelming, and this is one of them.
The other outstanding comedy performance is that of Dylan James Mulvaney (remembered as Ernst in Cygnet’s recent “Spring Awakening”) as the younger brother, Charles, who is highly intelligent and effeminate as can be.
Karam’s mid-play scene of chaotic convergence, titled “On Home,” is the play’s best and funniest, bringing the brothers together with the crazy boss (Maggie Carney), the incontinent Uncle Bill (Navarre T. Perry) and the repentant high school prankster, Vin (Xavier Scott, an SDSU theater major in his professional debut). The awful, vociferous situation sends Joseph straight into the arms of Timothy (Austin Vaccaro), a journalist who wants to exploit the other story, whether or not Vin will be allowed to play in the upcoming championship football game. Faeren Adams and Li-Abbe Rowswell play additional community members. The fact that the family line comes to an end due to the brothers’ homosexuality may be a further tragedy; so is Joseph’s illness, which remains undiagnosed at curtain’s fall.
The excellent calibration of scenes and performances must be laid at the feet of Lutfy, who like Gibran and Karam, is of Lebanese descent. I asked my companion, also of Lebanese descent, if the playwright’s portrait of the culture rings true.
“Yes,” he said, “especially when everyone is talking and yelling at once.”
Cygnet designers — the entire stage is used — are scenic designer Sean Fanning, costume designer Veronica Murphy, lighting designer Chris Rynne and sound designer Matt Lescault-Woods.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Sons of the Prophet” was inspired by a news article about high school football players who put a deer decoy in the middle of the road. Each section of the play is named for a lesson in Gibran’s 1923 book, “The Prophet.”