The world of Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet, playing now through May 1st at the BCA, is peopled by two gay brothers (one a geography nerd and the other an ex-athlete with chronic pain), a manic wealthy book publisher with an estranged son, a black jock whose foster parents are Jewish, and a racist uncle.
Now if this sounds like an obnoxious parade of quirks, let me assure you it is not.
Karam takes what easily could have been a bunch of types spouting predictable sentiments and turns it into a real human comedy about loss, identity and pain.
I’ve made it a goal for myself to summarize the basic story in only a handful of sentences. So, here goes:
Joseph (Kelsey Kurz) and Charles’ (Dan McCabe) father gets into a car accident one night after swerving to miss what he thought was a deer but which is really a decoy. He doesn’t die from the crash; instead, he has a heart attack a week later, leaving the responsibility of Uncle Bill (Yusef Bulos) to his sons. Joseph’s employer, a depressive and self-involved publisher (Joanna Gleason, more on her below) tries to get Joseph to write a book about his family, while a reporter (Charles Socarides) tries to find out more about the story, which involves the high school football player (Jonathan Louis Dent) who put the decoy in the road and whose punishment is being delayed so that he can win the championship for the town, a ruling which stirs much controversy.
Phew. Take a breather from that last paragraph with some video.
Once again, this may sound a little overly eccentric and/or clumsily plotted, but, I say again, it is not.
The young playwright Karam imbues as much humanness into each character as possible, sometimes with little more than a scene. The opening features Joseph and Gloria, his boss, at the office. So much information is packed into this scene, you don’t realize how much Karam told you until later. Yet, there are subtle touches to the characters underscoring the humor.
Because this show is also very, very funny.
Not in slapsticky way (although there are carefully organized moments that could have fallen into that), but in a way where the comedy comes from the people you’re watching, not from the writer.
The performances from this ensemble are wonderful. Kelsey Kurz’s Joseph centers the play, grounding it so that it doesn’t ever get close to melodrama. And Joanna Gleason (who I first saw in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters) is absolutely hilarious, with some of the funniest lines of the show, and yet, also, by the end, some of the most poignant.
Director Peter DuBois (Artistic Director of the Huntington Theatre Company) directs this comedy with a sense of looming sadness, hinting at the insight to come even in the beginning moments.
By the end, I was so moved I almost forgot it had been a comedy at all.
And Karam wisely avoids too neat of a resolution for his characters, or any kind of pat revelation, except the simple lesson that we all must somehow find that seemingly small, daily heroism of pushing on despite the pain.
[Sons of the Prophet. Playing now through 5.1.11. Boston Center for the Arts. 527 Tremont St. South End, Boston. 617.266.0800. $25-$65. huntingtontheatre.org]