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Sons of the Prophet

Stephen Karam's new play about a man dealing with the sudden death of his father and his own failing health unsuccessfully aims for levity.

By Boston
Dan McCabe and Joanna Gleason
in Sons of the Prophet
(© Paul Marotta)
Dan McCabe and Joanna Gleason
in Sons of the Prophet
(© Paul Marotta)
In Sons of the Prophet now debuting at Boston's Huntington Theatre, playwright Stephen Karam keeps trying to infuse this family dramedy with humor, and director Peter DuBois dutifully maintains a rhythm of sitcom-style patter. However, the subject matter -- a death in the family, failing health all around -- is simply resistant to levity.

As the play begins, 29-year-old Joseph Douaihy (Kelsey Kurz) is having what could only be described as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He's doing his best to get out of the office early to attend to some personal business, but his over-sharing boss, independent book packager Gloria Gurney (Joanna Gleason), is intent on first winkling out of him every possible detail of what that business might be.

We soon learn that Joseph's father is in the hospital after a heart attack -- the aftermath of a prank gone awry. A high-school football star (Joseph Louis Dent), on a dare from his teammates, placed a decoy deer in the road, and Joseph's father crashed his car swerving to avoid it. Soon after, the father dies; and in keeping with a real-life case which caught Karam's attention -- the judge has decided to allow the miscreant to finish up the season before heading off to juvenile detention.

Meanwhile, Joseph, a competitive runner -- who is assisting Gloria part-time in order to get health insurance -- has been seeing a doctor to investigate not just the "knee problems" he has reluctantly discussed with Gloria, but also a cluster of troubling symptoms that could put an end to his athletic career (or worse).

Furthermore, Joseph's semi-senile, retro-racist Uncle Bill (a relentlessly hammy Yusef Bulos) is fast becoming a burden in his quest to act as substitute father to the fully adult Joseph and his 18-year-old brother, Charles (the credibly geeky Dan McCabe).

On the surface, Gloria is just pathologically nosy, going so far as to drop in on the Douaihys at home, all in the interest of trying to quid-pro-quo Joseph into writing a book -- as if the memoir of a non-celebrity athlete who happens to be a distant relative of Kahlil Gibran were guaranteed bestseller-list gold. But Gloria is nothing if not quixotic, and one wonders if she has another agenda in mind. Unfortunately, even the usually scintillating Gleason is powerless to infuse this underwritten character with enough quirkiness to engage our interest.

Rounding out the proceedings is Charles Socarides as Timothy, who is hoping to get the inside scoop on the brothers' tragedy, while using their story to catapult himself into the big leagues. As he slowly gains Joseph's confidence and a tryst in the bargain -- it has previously been announced, clumsily, that both Douaihy brothers are gay -- we're left to ponder whether he's on the level or exploitative beyond the call of duty. That question injects a welcome note of suspense into this overly glib exercise.


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