Is the secret of succeeding in this messy business called life acceptance?
Is the only hope of defeating life’s chaotic conflux by acknowledging you will never win?
Do we only grasp peace in life when we embrace its survival rate?
My head was tumbling with these thoughts and others while I was mulling over Sons of the Prophet the highly touted play and Pulitzer runner up by Stephen Karam.
The Douaihy are a Lebanese-American family who claim descent from Kahlil Gibran, who probably beats out both the cedars and Danny Thomas as Lebanon’s most famous export.
For those unacquainted, Gibran is the author of The Prophet, a slim volume of philosophical poetry whose world wide popularity has put him third in the ranks of history’s all time best selling poets.*
The Prophet is celebrated for it’s poetic rendering of the peace that is gathered from the contemplated life. So be sure to look for the animated epic The Prophet from the people who brought you The Lion King, and featuring the vocal talents of Salma Hayek. (I’m not kidding.)
Karam employs projected chapter headings plucked from The Prophet to serve as scene dividers on a stage that presents about as much serenity as could fill a cricket’s thimble.
In the small burg of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, one of the “Rust Belt’s” rustier spots, Joseph (Adam Silver), and his younger brother Charles (Braxton Molinaro) find themselves orphaned after a prank by Vin (Mychal Thompson), rising star of the town’s high school football team, brings about the death of their father.
The brothers are being besieged by community efforts to bring about a resolution to this local tragedy, one involving a public statement of forgiveness by their family for the young player involved.
At the forefront of that effort is Vin whose jeopardized NFL career has attracted statewide media interest.
In addition to dealing with their loss, as well as news teams interrupting their period of mourning pestering them for interviews, the brothers have been forced to take in their aging and very aggravating uncle Bill (Jack Laufer).
Joseph, meanwhile, is racked by some mysterious ailment, and needs health coverage so desperately that he accepts a job with Gloria, (Tamara Zook in top form) a down on her luck, Bi-polar literary agent from New York who, when not bouncing off the walls, nags at him to write a book about the incident and his family who have the habit of “dying tragically.”
On top of all this, Joseph finds himself tumbling into a relationship with a young news reporter (Erik Odom), who may be pursuing a story more than Joseph. Through it all Joseph utters the mantra of the Douaihy clan, “All is well” without much conviction.
Karam tosses in a pinch of this and that to spice up his bubbling cauldron of dramatic devices.
I can’t say the results left a bad taste in my mouth, but I did wind up with a very confused palate.
Despite excellent performances by those named, as well as Ellen Karsten and Irene Roseen, no clarity of intent came through to me, either from the playwright or director Michael Matthews.
Rachel Watson’s crowded set, reminiscent of the long gone West Hollywood bar, “J. Sloane’s” was in perfect sync with the clashing conflicts on stage but whatever it was the production wished to communicate was lost in the clutter.
Well at least for me it was.
The play ends with a gentleness that is most welcome.
The statement of the piece is no doubt intertwined with this moment of quiet reflection, concluding the clashing cacophony of the play with a whimper worthy of E.E. Cummings.
I regret to say that I left the theatre feeling somewhat frustrated, plagued by the nagging sense that within the sound and fury I had sat through, that something was supposedly being signified.
Alas. It is never a good sign when an audience doesn’t need program notes as much as Cliff Notes.
* (Behind Shakespeare and China’s Laozi. I figured you’d want to know.)
♦ ♦ ♦
Sons of the Prophet
2nd Stage Theatre,
6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Ends March 15. $30
Tiks: (323) 661-9827 or www.TheBlank.com
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minute