By Martin F. Kohn
Joseph Douaihy is a long-distance runner who never got very far. A regional champion in high school, he was preparing for the Olympic trials when he suffered a knee ailment that may presage something more serious. Now 29, he lives in the northeastern Pennsylvania home where he grew up and works for a woman who was also on her way to somewhere when illness intervened.
That would be Gloria, clinically depressed (by her own admission) and suffering the after-effects of her husband’s suicide. Once a New York publishing executive, she runs a two-person (herself and Joseph) business putting together book deals back in her native Pennsylvania.
Then there’s Joseph’s younger brother, Charles, 18 or so, who was born with only one ear. Whether evident or less so, every character bears scars in Stephen Karam’s “Sons of the Prophet”; to one degree or another, everyone is suffering. “Prophet” is about loss. It’s also about place, about identity, about family, about passion, compassion, hurt and forgiveness. Annette Madias’ Ringwald Theatre production smoothly delivers all of the play’s complexity and impact – and its considerable humor.
It’s difficult to say whether “Sons of the Prophet” is a comedy, or a drama with a lot of laughs; the distinction doesn’t really matter. As for its title, that refers to the fact that the brothers Douaihy, their infirm, curmudgeonly uncle Bill and their late father are distantly related to Kahlil Gibran, author of “The Prophet.” The Douaihys are Lebanese-American Maronite Christians, and there is much about their distinctive ethnicity in the play. But like Eugene O’Neill writing about Irish Americans, Wendy Wasserstein writing about Jewish Americans or Tennessee Williams writing about Southern Americans, Karam uses ethnic, religious and geographic particulars to get at more universal truths.
The principal plot line involves the auto accident that led to the recent death of Charles and Joseph’s father. He swerved to avoid a fake deer placed in the middle of the highway as a prank by a high school football player. The judge in the case is letting the football player finish out the season before he goes to jail; Uncle Bill is outraged, the Douaihy brothers are more forgiving. Meanwhile, a male TV reporter working on the story is very much taken with Joseph (who is gay, as is Charles), and Gloria wants to make a book, called “Sons of the Prophet,” out of the family’s remote connection to Gibran.
Keeping his head – except when he’s dealing, hilariously, with a hospital’s maddening automated phone-answering system – is Sean McGettigan as Joseph. His performance is natural and understated, providing nice balance to Lisa Melinn’s loud, oversharing Gloria (this is not a criticism), Robbie Dwight who plays up, but doesn’t overplay, Charles’ stereotypically gay mannerisms, and Marty Bufalini’s gruff, touching lion-in-winter portrayal of Uncle Bill enduring the indignities of frailty and old age.
Christopher Tucker is believable as Vin, the football player, and Richard Payton has the right touch of superciliousness as the preppy TV reporter.
Joe Plambeck and director Madias, sharing credit for sound design, deserve special mention for coming up at germane moments with recordings in Arabic of “9 to 5” and “Something Stupid.” Very clever.
‘Sons of the Prophet’
The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Friday-Monday through April 29. 1 hour, 40 minutes; no intermission. $10-20. 248-545-5545. http://www.theringwald.com