Sons Of The Prophet at Park Square Theatre

Sasha Andreev and Maxwell Collyard in Sons Of The Prophet. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

Sasha Andreev and Maxwell Collyard in Sons Of The Prophet. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

The only truly universal experiences of life are pain and death, and the two are often closely intertwined. Whether it is the emotional pain resulting from a loved one’s death or the physical pain reminding us we are all approaching death, these themes permeate much of human existence. Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet, a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist, manages to explore such themes with respect, insight, and a healthy dose of humor. And it is a joy to say that Park Square Theatre’s current production (running through June 5th), delivers this show’s thorny subject matter with aplomb.

Karam masterfully explores such disparate thematic elements as a family’s religious history, coming to terms with one’s sexual identity, and the frustrations of the U.S. healthcare system. Throughout, comic bits of people “one-upping” each other’s sadness are juxtaposed with motifs of dignified, quite suffering.

The protagonist of the show is Joseph Douaihy, a second generation Lebanese-American and former champion distance runner who is facing a culmination of tragedy, family dysfunction, and physical ailments. All the while, he is consistently learning to balance inspiration springing from the Christian faith of his family and the need to find love with another man in conservative, small town America. These challenges are compounded by his life being filled to the brim with eccentric colleagues and family members. Yet, despite the difficulties they bring, each of these people also come to offer their own means to find peace, and their collective wisdom – from disparate sources – proves powerful.

Joseph is played by Sasha Andreev with a carefully manicured charisma that starkly and comically contrasts his supporting players, whom he primarily greets with exasperation. Those players are an emotionally overbearing boss (played with well-calibrated anxious energy by Angela Timberman), an earnest and idealistic brother (an endearing turn from Maxwell Collyard), and a young and uncertain victim of circumstance who finds himself thrown into the mix (played with timidity by Ricardo Beaird). A particular standout from the supporting cast is Michael Tezla, who brings passion, conviction, and soulfulness to the character of Bill, Joseph’s otherwise racist and gruff uncle.

With characters this big, it is particularly noteworthy that director Jef Hall-Flavin is able to give each of his talented performers an honest voice, and by never giving in too much to their quirks, ensures that no single personality overtakes the manic proceedings. Regardless of the characters’ eccentricities, they all feel real and never less than human. It is an impressive balancing act to align comic timing and honest emotions amidst its frenzied set pieces.

Helping to keep the show engaging is an effective and versatile set and a lighting design that accentuates and isolates moments of gravity. (Sets by Joseph Stanley, lighting by Michael P. Kittel.)

Sons of the Prophet represents a risk of sorts, as it veers in uncomfortable directions, is marked by ambiguity, and is a challenging mix of themes and ideas. So, it is not only exciting to see this work come to the stage at all, but to see it delivered with such skill. It is not easy to approach the topic of pain and human disconnect in any form, but to do so with an equal share of humor and poignancy deserves ample praise. It is both powerful in its call for a shared human experience and riotously funny, providing a thoroughly enjoyable ride regardless of a barely existent narrative arc. For the sake of productions that could be throughout the cities, and for your own enjoyment, support daring theater such as this and get your tickets.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.



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