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Ever-expanding mania

All is not well for the Sons of the Prophet, but at least it's funny

Sons of the Prophet at Cygnet Theatre
Sons of the Prophet at Cygnet Theatre

Sons of the Prophet

Kahlil Gibran wrote one of the best-selling books of all time. Translated into over 40 languages, The Prophet (1923) records the poetic observations of the Lebanese mystic Almustafa on self-knowledge, good and evil, death, and others. An inspiration for millions, the book also inspired Randy Berkman’s brilliant parody, The Prophit, which compares Gibran’s limpid style to water: “So tasteless, yet wet.”

Gibran’s overall message: “You are greater than you know. All is well.”

Stephen Karam’s comic train wreck, Sons of the Prophet, questions Gibran’s veracity. Greek tragedy often begins with a sudden, often absurd reversal. Same with Karam’s people, but most have had more than one.

Joseph trained to run in the Olympics. One day his knees began to ache and now he has a mysterious ailment that may be “global.” He hires on at a publishing firm, run by Gloria (“a really deranged woman”), for the health insurance.

Gloria’s squeezed through her share of wringers. They ran her out of town for publishing a phony book about WWII concentration camps. She didn’t know it was a lie, she says: “I wasn’t at the Holocaust!” Her wealthy husband also committed suicide. So Gloria knows pain. She also knows how to exploit it: have Joseph write a book about his father’s tragic accident.

As a joke, Vin, an African-American star running back at Cedarcrest High, stood a stuffed deer on a West Pennsylvania road. Joseph’s father swerved to avoid it and crashed his car. A week later he died of a heart attack.

The school and a local judge want to postpone Vin’s punishment until after the Big Game. Which prompts Joseph, younger brother Charles, and Uncle Bill, a rampant xenophobe, to want to put Vin on trial — and maybe also, in Joseph’s case, to block another gifted runner from his destiny.

And speaking of destiny, Joseph and Charles are Lebanese and said to be indirect descendants of Kahlil Gibran. The author labels each scene from The Prophet. And, whether about “work” or “talking” or “at home,” each shows that “all is not well.” And the play mirrors the plight of the characters. Scenes threaten to go scatterbrained, everyone babbling at once, yet somehow things hold together.

Credit to Cygnet director Rob Lufty, effective minimalist design work, and a talented ensemble cast for pushing scenes to near collapse, for etching sharp portrayals, and for making such a somber topic often impishly — and screamingly — funny.

Alex Hoeffler carries the show as Joseph, his perplexities just a few clicks down from long-suffering Job. Young Dylan James Mulvaney brings talent and timing to Charles. Faeren Adams and Li-Anne Rowswell score in various, always-funny cameos. As do Austin Vaccaro as a sportswriter, Xavier Scott as sidelined halfback Vin, and Navarre Perry — back on a San Diego stage finally! — as PC-challenged Uncle Bill.

Over the years, Maggie Carney’s played many support characters, always to good effect. But her Gloria has a special aura: it’s obvious that she could not love this role more! Gloria is 15 kinds of luna. Carney plays all 15, but also shows a sane, though fragile heart.

Given the ever-expanding mania throughout, the bland final scene feels tacked on. But how else to conclude ongoing struggles except to keep going on?

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Sons of the Prophet at Cygnet Theatre
Sons of the Prophet at Cygnet Theatre

Sons of the Prophet

Kahlil Gibran wrote one of the best-selling books of all time. Translated into over 40 languages, The Prophet (1923) records the poetic observations of the Lebanese mystic Almustafa on self-knowledge, good and evil, death, and others. An inspiration for millions, the book also inspired Randy Berkman’s brilliant parody, The Prophit, which compares Gibran’s limpid style to water: “So tasteless, yet wet.”

Gibran’s overall message: “You are greater than you know. All is well.”

Stephen Karam’s comic train wreck, Sons of the Prophet, questions Gibran’s veracity. Greek tragedy often begins with a sudden, often absurd reversal. Same with Karam’s people, but most have had more than one.

Joseph trained to run in the Olympics. One day his knees began to ache and now he has a mysterious ailment that may be “global.” He hires on at a publishing firm, run by Gloria (“a really deranged woman”), for the health insurance.

Gloria’s squeezed through her share of wringers. They ran her out of town for publishing a phony book about WWII concentration camps. She didn’t know it was a lie, she says: “I wasn’t at the Holocaust!” Her wealthy husband also committed suicide. So Gloria knows pain. She also knows how to exploit it: have Joseph write a book about his father’s tragic accident.

As a joke, Vin, an African-American star running back at Cedarcrest High, stood a stuffed deer on a West Pennsylvania road. Joseph’s father swerved to avoid it and crashed his car. A week later he died of a heart attack.

The school and a local judge want to postpone Vin’s punishment until after the Big Game. Which prompts Joseph, younger brother Charles, and Uncle Bill, a rampant xenophobe, to want to put Vin on trial — and maybe also, in Joseph’s case, to block another gifted runner from his destiny.

And speaking of destiny, Joseph and Charles are Lebanese and said to be indirect descendants of Kahlil Gibran. The author labels each scene from The Prophet. And, whether about “work” or “talking” or “at home,” each shows that “all is not well.” And the play mirrors the plight of the characters. Scenes threaten to go scatterbrained, everyone babbling at once, yet somehow things hold together.

Credit to Cygnet director Rob Lufty, effective minimalist design work, and a talented ensemble cast for pushing scenes to near collapse, for etching sharp portrayals, and for making such a somber topic often impishly — and screamingly — funny.

Alex Hoeffler carries the show as Joseph, his perplexities just a few clicks down from long-suffering Job. Young Dylan James Mulvaney brings talent and timing to Charles. Faeren Adams and Li-Anne Rowswell score in various, always-funny cameos. As do Austin Vaccaro as a sportswriter, Xavier Scott as sidelined halfback Vin, and Navarre Perry — back on a San Diego stage finally! — as PC-challenged Uncle Bill.

Over the years, Maggie Carney’s played many support characters, always to good effect. But her Gloria has a special aura: it’s obvious that she could not love this role more! Gloria is 15 kinds of luna. Carney plays all 15, but also shows a sane, though fragile heart.

Given the ever-expanding mania throughout, the bland final scene feels tacked on. But how else to conclude ongoing struggles except to keep going on?

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