Commercial producers have been mulling a move for the small-cast play that revels in theatricality; at one point in director Peter DuBois' production, the characters spill into the audience in a scene showing a public forum in small-town Pennsylvania. Karam was also lauded for the visual surprises, imagination and humanity of his earlier play seen at Roundabout, Speech & Debate, which has had a wide regional-theatre life.
Sons of the Prophet — a seriocomic play about a tragedy-plagued Lebanese-American family made up of two brothers and their ailing Uncle Bill, distantly related to Lebanese author Khalil Gibran, who penned the inspirational best-seller "The Prophet" — opened Oct. 20 following previews from Sept. 28. It plays the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre. Raves and audience interest prompted a one-week extension, to Jan. 1.
The cast features Yusef Bulos (as cantankerous Uncle Bill), Jonathan Louis Dent (as teenage football player Vin), Santino Fontana (as mysteriously chronically ill elder brother Joseph), Joanna Gleason (as mentally ill book editor Gloria, Joseph's boss), Lizbeth Mackay (Mrs. McAndrew and other roles), Dee Nelson (Dr. Manor and other roles), Chris Perfetti (as Joseph's little brother, Charles) and Charles Socarides (as a reporter, Timothy, following a news story about a family tragedy).
Here's how Roundabout bills the play: "If to live is to suffer, then Joseph Douaihy (Fontana) is more alive than most. With unexplained chronic pain and the fate of his reeling family on his shoulders, Joseph's health, sanity, and insurance premium are on the line. In an age when modern medicine has a cure for just about everything, Sons of the Prophet is a refreshingly honest take on how we cope with wounds that just won't heal, and the funniest play about human suffering you're likely to see."
Critics found the play a deft, thoughtful and graceful mix of comedy and drama. "To observe that a play about extreme suffering is also explosively funny might seem absurd," wrote the powerful New York Times. "But one of the many soul-piercing truths in Sons of the Prophet, the absolutely wonderful new comedy-drama by Stephen Karam, is that life rarely obeys the rules of dramatic consistency, or, for that matter, fair play." Karam's play was commissioned by Roundabout Theatre Company following his hugely acclaimed New York debut as the author of Speech & Debate in 2007 in the Roundabout Underground series. The earlier title went on to become one of the most-produced titles in American regional and college theatre. Sons of the Prophet premiered in Boston in a production by Huntington Theatre Company. Tony Award winner Gleason also starred there.
In Sons of the Prophet, Gleason plays a Manhattan book editor who believes she's found her career-saving book in the story of a Lebanese family in Pennsylvania beset with tragedies.
"She's never exactly sober, and not just with alcohol," Gleason said of her character. "She has a substance abuse problem, brought on by her own inability to cope with the tragedies in her life. There is a connection [between her character and the family]. There's bonding. She reaches out in her desperately needy state for more than that. You can't tell if it's mercenary or emotional at times."
The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre is located at 111 West 46th Street. Tickets are available by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the Laura Pels box office.
Roundabout announced during the run of the play that it has given Karam a second commission.
Karam said in a statement, "I've always viewed Sons of the Prophet as the first part of a larger trilogy — not three plays dependent on each other, but three stand-alone plays connected by theme, and likely, further adventures of the Douaihy family. I'm grateful I will have the opportunity to explore this idea further. And I'm fortunate to be able to call Roundabout my artistic home and to have their support and resources offered through the generous people who donate to the New Play Initiative."
Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes said in a statement, "Stephen's success with Sons of the Prophet is everything I could have hoped for. We created Roundabout Underground to provide opportunities for artists — like Stephen — who didn't have a home from which to launch their promising careers. To see Stephen prove that he's not just a young playwright with potential but a truly gifted and mature voice in the American theatre, is incredibly satisfying. It's been a fulfilling artistic relationship to have developed Stephen's two plays here at Roundabout. I can't imagine his next play being done anywhere else. I'm thrilled Stephen is an integral part of our artistic family and our ongoing efforts to support more contemporary playwrights."
For more information, visit roundabouttheatre.org.