The Blank Theatre Company’s Sons of the Prophet is a near-perfect example of how a brilliant director, a first-class cast, and a top-notch design team can come up with a production so enthralling, moment-to-moment, that it’s only when you’re halfway to your car afterward that you realize you don’t know what the play you’ve just seen was about.
Not that it’s a bad play. On the contrary, Stephen Karam’s intermissionless work is thrilling: sharply written, hilarious and moving, quirky in the best way, with a skewed sensibility frequently verging on the surreal, and filled with moments which will have you either helplessly guffawing or with a catch in your throat.
Joseph (Adam Silver) and Charles (Braxton Molinaro) are the gay sons of a Lebanese immigrant, killed in a car crash when he swerves to avoid a deer decoy placed in the road as a prank by a star teen-aged football player, Vin (Mychal Thompson). The boys’ sickly, prickly Uncle Bill (Jack Laufer) moves in to their house, ostensibly to care for them, but also strenuously objecting to a potential book being pushed on them by Joseph’s employer, Gloria (Tamara Zook), a wacko publisher desperate for a hit who seizes on the family’s relation to Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet. As a scandal grows over Vin’s being allowed to finish the football season before being called to account for the accident, Joseph has a fling with Timothy (Erik Odom), a reporter assigned to investigate it. Females 1 and 2 (Ellen Karsten and Irene Roseen) play a variety of doctors, nurses, town officials, and others.
All the actors are exemplary, utterly fearless, yet truthful to the world of the play. With the exception of Vin, the one underwritten role, the playwright has given each actor at least a few moments of screamingly funny dialogue and/or character development. In addition, he’s provided each of the four principal characters (Joseph, Charles, Bill, and Gloria) show-stopping moments of emotional explosion (or implosion) – and yes, all the actors are capable of producing real tears. Sons of the Prophet is a showcase for virtuoso acting, and this cast takes full advantage of it.
The best direction never calls attention to itself, no matter how spectacular the production. Rather, a good director makes all the elements feel inevitable: everything you see is part of an integrated whole, fits the play precisely, and makes you feel it couldn’t be done otherwise. This is what I’ve come to expect whenever I see the name Michael Matthews as director, and his work here doesn’t disappoint: this is a well-thought-out, well-cast, imaginative, beautifully paced, and seamless show. Moment-to-moment, Matthews has made Sons of the Prophet engrossing on every level.
The tech credits are first-rate. Rachel Watson’s set, Luke Moyer’s lighting, Allison Dillard’s costumes, Cricket S. Myers’s sound, and Michael O’Hara’s props do everything they should, with grace and flair.
You may have noticed I’ve used the word “moment” a lot in this review, and here’s where I have a bone to pick with the play.
Karam’s writing is truly wonderful: he has created moments so funny, so thought-provoking, so moving, so “out there” that he – literally – takes the audience to another plane while you’re watching: it’s so smart, and so outre, it sets your pulse racing. The individual moments are well-crafted, the scenes flow, and there’s precious little of the vagueness and obfuscation so many playwrights today think of as chic.
However, while I can tell you what happens in the play, damned if I can tell you what it’s about. It’s a succession of fabulous moments – and I do mean fabulous – and watching it in the moment was an unalloyed joy. It was only afterward, as I tried to make sense of what I’d seen, that I found myself lost. I thought perhaps it was just me, but as we walked the few blocks to my car after the curtain call, I asked my companion – who also thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and was profoundly moved by the final scene – if he could tell me what the play was about. He stopped, thought for a moment, and then said, “I don’t know. Pieces of life, maybe?”
Maybe. And maybe that’s enough. It certainly was enough for the play to win a bunch of awards. And yet I found myself waking up this morning with another playwright’s musing about “life” running through my head: a tale told by (in this case, definitely not) an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying… what? Wish to hell I knew.
Sons of the Prophet
Written by Stephen Karam
Directed by Michael Matthews
Through March 29
The Blank’s 2nd Stage Theatre
6500 Santa Monica Boulevard (at Wilcox)
Tickets: (323) 661-9827 or www.TheBlank.com