Chekhov put it this way: “Happiness does not await us all. One needn’t be a prophet to say that there will be more grief and pain than serenity and money. That is why we must hang on to one another.”
Playwright Stephen Karam opens “Sons Of The Prophet” with a shocking car crash that will send a Lebanese-American man to the hospital. He will die a few weeks later of a heart attack, which may or may not have been precipitated by the crash. The crash was caused by a teenager’s prank: He had placed a dummy deer in the road, and the driver swerved to avoid it.
Left behind are 29-year-old son Joseph (Alex Hoeffler), 18-year-old son Charles (Dylan James Mulvaney) and their elderly Uncle Bill (Navarre Perry). They live in a worn-down former steel town in Pennsylvania.
Joseph works for fast-talking Gloria (Maggie Carney), a wacky publisher who has been drummed out of the business in New York for publishing a faked memoir. Joseph wants the job for the health insurance. Gloria has hired him because she wants a book. Joseph’s family is distantly related to Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, author of “The Prophet” and the third best- selling poet of all time (behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu) – and she’d love a memoir.
Joseph is horrified at the suggestion; he considers family matters just that and not reading fodder for the masses. But he needs that insurance.
The old saw that trouble comes in batches holds true here, as every major character has problems. Joseph, a former Olympic track hopeful, suddenly acquires mysterious knee pains that may end his athletic dreams.
Joseph’s little brother Charles is a geography whiz. He’s also a flaming homosexual (Joseph is also gay, but not flamboyant). Charles’ cross to bear: He was born without one ear, so one was manufactured from his own skin.
Uncle Bill is old, crotchety and given to horrifyingly insensitive and insulting comments about minorities. But he’s the only family the boys have left.
The prankster who precipitated the wreck is 18-year-old Vin (Xavier Scott), a high school football star whose future may have been jeopardized by that one stupid stunt.
At one point Joseph meets a journalist named Timothy (Austin Vaccaro) at the bus station, who offers the possibility of a relationship. Timothy’s problem is that his editor wants pictures Joseph does not want to give permission for.
And as annoying as Gloria can be, she too has a story: Her husband committed suicide, an event she’s never quite recovered from.
Gibran’s best known book was “The Prophet” (pretty much required reading in my circles in the 1960s), and the shape of the play follows the form of that book: it takes place in seven short scenes, each with a projected “title” like On Work, On Pain, On Talking.
Gibran’s overall point was something like “You are better than you think. All is well.” That last part is repeated often in this play, but it is obvious that all is anything but well for these characters.
“Sons of the Prophet” is billed as a comedy, and there are some extremely funny (and all too familiar) bits, such as Joseph’s “conversations” with his health providers’ taped menus.
Carney’s motormouth Gloria provides much hilarity as well as stereotypical behavior (you know, the hard-driving New Yorker who bulls right though objections). I’m not sure I buy the character as written, but I couldn’t help laughing at Carney’s high-energy portrayal. She is clearly having a wonderful time.
Several of the characters engage in a take-no-prisoners form of conversation in which they talk over and past each other but seldom listen. No, “talk” isn’t the word: they shout. I suppose this can be amusing for a while, but it quickly grated on my nerves (and eardrums).
“Sons Of The Prophet” is an odd little piece that tries to combine laughter and suffering in much the way that life does. I admire the idea, but this piece does not speak to me, and director Rob Lutfy’s efforts to keep this boisterous crowd from wearing out its welcome didn’t succeed.
“Sons Of The Prophet” plays through Feb. 15 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town San Diego.
Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.