Storing Tears Beside Laughter

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

Seldom has sorrow been as hilarious as in Sons of the Prophet, Stephen Karam’s new
comedy. Or is it a funny drama? Whatever category the script falls into, The
Roundabout and director Peter DuBois have given it a tender, melancholy
production Off-Broadway that finds its rich vein of humor beneath the tragedies
constantly befalling the Douaihy family.

Working for a disgraced, clinically depressed former book
publisher who has sought refuge in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania,
Joseph Douaihy (Santino Fontana) is not doing well. A champion runner in high
school, he’s recently started suffering bouts of chronic joint pain; his father
just died after a freak car accident caused by a jokester football player; and
his elderly uncle is failing fast. Nothing goes right for Joseph or his younger
brother Charles (Chris Perfetti, a mincing, Capote-esque delight who flaunts
his enviably toned body at every opportunity), and everyone who reaches out to
help—including that football player (Jonathan Louis Dent) and Joseph’s boss (a
hilariously understated Joanna Gleason)—just make matters worse.

DuBois has succeeded in finding the truth behind Karam’s
jokes and awkward conversations. Gleason’s Gloria is believably, tentatively
offensive, even when she’s trying not to be; her default exit from placing her
foot in her mouth is to abruptly take an imaginary phone call on her
BlackBerry. And Fontana and Perfetti’s brotherly chemistry is pitch perfect;
Fontana seems to ace every brotherly relationship required of him, including in
the short-lived Brighton Beach Memoirs
revival a few season back. Here, he’s given much more to do and he soars.
Frustrated and terrified, Joseph is on the precipice of a breakdown that he
doesn’t quite understand is coming, and according to Fontana’s quivering mood
swings and physicality, that breakdown is even closer than we suspect.

Even Joseph’s hesitant romance with a local news anchor
(Charles Socarides), in town to cover the fallout from the death of Joseph’s
father, is doomed to end badly. Just how badly—and how painfully funny—is a
testament to Karam’s talents, as Joseph cracks up at a school board meeting in
front of the whole town. There are no easy answers here, and even the final
scene is more poignant than happy. But there’s something powerful about Sons of the Prophet and Karam’s refusal
to be blinded by looking at the sunny side. There’s always the possibility for
redemption for Joseph and his family, but none of them are ever in danger of
forgetting about the dark clouds inside the silver linings.

Sons of the Prophet

Through Jan. 1, 2012, Laura
Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. (betw. 6th & 7th
Aves.),; $86.