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Karen Malpede's badly written, overly artsy soap opera can't be saved by it's indefatigable ensemble.

George Bartenieff and Kathleen Chalfant in Prophecy
(© ARI MINTZ Photography)
An indefatigable five-person ensemble, including George Bartenieff, Kathleen Chalfant, and Peter Francis James, works valiantly to bring Karen Malpede's Prophecy, running at the East Fourth Street Theater, to credible life. But not even the efforts of these A-list talents can elevate or enliven this overly artsy and badly written soap opera.

Sarah (Chalfant), an acting teacher at an unnamed New York-based conservatory, takes considerable interest in her student Jeremy (Brendan Donaldson), a young Iraq war veteran. Sarah's attention to Jeremy, however, may not stem strictly from her assessment of his talent. Both her husband Alan (Bartenieff), a nonprofit exec, and the school's dean, Charles Muffler (James), fear that she might also see similarities between Jeremy and Lucas, who was Sarah's lover and a friend to the other men during their days as students during the early 1970s.

Malpede further complicates an already complex plot with Alan's infidelities, which stem from his desire to have a child which Sarah is unable to bear. Alan believes an heir would serve not only as a namesake, but also as a legacy for his family, many of whom died in the Holocaust. Alan's affair with his associate, Hala (Najla Said), are revealed in flashbacks, related with vehemence by Sarah, who ultimately manages to quash the relationship just as Alan learns that Hala is carrying his child.

During the play's present-day scenes, Malpede also introduces Miriam (Said), the daughter who has grown into her twenties in her mother's native Lebanon and who comes to visit her father, with an agenda all of her own.

Meanwhile, Jeremy's presence among these characters only further complicates matters, particularly given his violent outbursts -- he punches his Latina girlfriend Miranda (once again Said) -- and flashbacks to his time in Iraq as he memorizes and rehearses one of Tiresias' monologues from Antigone. Sarah has to continually plead with Charles to not have Jeremy expelled, while Charles must repeatedly demand that Sarah no longer have any contact with the young man.

Chalfant is at her best during Sarah's reveries about theater, but she does inspire admiration as she imbues Sarah with appalling selfishness. Bartenieff proves affecting during some of Alan's more tender moments with Miriam, James opts for an appropriate detached bureaucratic crispness throughout, but brings surprising emotional depth to one sequence. Donaldson has a frantic gosh-shucks quality to it that wearies almost immediately, Said brings a graceful ease to her work as Hala, but as both the fiery Miranda and the self-righteous Miriam, her work is less credible.

And although Malpede attempts to end the play with a tragic crescendo, the overlong work merely sputters to its sad conclusion.