Rod Stewart had it right. Some guys have all the pain. Joseph Duaihy (Santino Fontana), the put-upon 29-year-old hero of Stephen Karam’s new Off Broadway play, Sons of the Prophet, is one of them. His body is wracked with mysterious aches. His brother (Chris Perfetti) was born without an ear. His mother is dead. His uncle (Yusef Bulos) is a bigot. He’s bad at romance. His publisher boss (Joanna Gleason) is a nutter. And, thanks to a foolish high school prank that begins the play, his father was in a car crash that slowly, and eventually, killed him. ”We’re like the Kennedys,” says Joseph. ”Without the sex appeal.”
Did I mention that Joseph and his brother are also both gay? It’s a fact they’ve embraced, but something their fellow Pennsylvanians shake their heads at as if it’s just another hardship for the Duaihys (”God love him…gay and hearing impaired”). To add insult to literal injury, a judge has postponed the punishment of the teenage athlete who caused their father’s accident so he won’t miss football season, inciting a citywide controversy with the family in the middle. When you string it all together, it sounds rough. When you watch it, it’s even rougher. The Duaihys are Lebanese American descendants of real-life The Prophet scribe Kahlil Gibran, whose self-helpy motto was ”you are far, far greater than you know, all is well” and they’ve been taught that suffering brings strength. The only difficulty is that gaining anything through suffering still includes the suffering part.
Karam — who is Lebanese American, Pennsylvanian, and gay himself — explores this right of passage with good intent (and the help of Fontana, who appears to wither away emotionally and physically by the play’s end). He even occasionally injects some humor into the story, mostly thanks to Perfetti’s snark as Joseph’s precocious teen brother. But Sons lacks the laughs of the playwright’s previous work, particularly the high school-set three-hander Speech and Debate. The problem is that Sons is also about too many other things: from insurance-company red tape and the publishing industry (Joseph’s boss thinks she’s got a hit book in his family’s story) to foster care, racial prejudice, xenophobia, agoraphobia, family legacies, sex, and clinical depression. That’s a lot for one slender play to bear. B
(Tickets: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300)