PANIC ATTACK Sharon Carpentier, Hancock-Brainerd, and Iacovelli. [Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.]
We live in an age too ironic to appreciate Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet but not too cynical to profit from it. That’s the premise of Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet, which 2nd Story Theatre is presenting (through November 24) in its DownStage theater, handily directed by Wendy Overly, whom we usually see impressively acting at the Gamm.
In the peace-love-and-good-vibes ’60s, the 1923 book of poetical ruminations was quite popular, full of sentimental bromides (“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of heaven dance between you”) and ersatz profundities (“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts”).
Joseph Douaihy (Jed Hancock-Brainerd) and his kid brother Charles (Andrew Iacovelli), are of Lebanese descent and distantly related to Gibran. Both gay, they live on the wrong side of the tracks in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. That ancestry is of little concern to them, though their usually angry Uncle Bill (Vince Petronio), who lives with them, is fond of quoting Gibran. What troubles them is that their father has recently had a fatal heart attack, two weeks after a car accident, which may or may not have been a factor. The accident resulted from a prank: a teenager thought it would be funny to place a deer decoy on the road.
Hmmm, maybe there’s some money in that. That idea isn’t the brothers’ but rather the notion of Joseph’s publisher boss, Gloria Gurney (Paula Faber). “I work for a wealthy deranged woman,” he says, and he can’t quit because he needs the health insurance. She is so self-centered and hyper-needy that she says her husband left her, though the normal description would be that he committed suicide. Gloria, Joseph says, “thinks creating a product connected to The Prophet would be a gold mine.” The details are vague because the woman is indeed a whack job, blurting and bullying, and Faber delightfully plays her like a whirling dervish.
There is no money in suing the parents of the kid who caused the accident, Vin (Nathan Goncalves), because he’s poor and in foster care. He’s also a high school football star who needs a scholarship to go to college, a situation that the judge charging him is sympathetic about. The apology that Vin has written and reads to the brothers sounds desperate but sincere.
In addition to such discomforts and embarrassments, suffering comes up repeatedly as a theme. For example, Uncle Bill, a devout Maronite Christian, makes sure that his portrait of St. Rafka stays on the wall: the blind patron saint of Lebanon wanted to experience more suffering in order to get closer to God. (In droll irony, Arabic text beneath the figure says, “All is well.”) A 29-year-old former athlete, Joseph has several painful, inexplicable ailments, and eventually someone accuses him of wanting to suffer. Timothy (Charles Lafond), a reporter he meets snowbound in a bus station, has an even more insightful take: “To make it in this country you have to either be an extraordinary person or make a series of extraordinarily bad decisions. The rest of us are left in the middle.”