So why do we laugh? We’re not really enjoying poor Joseph’s suffering, but Sons of the Prophet (the title comes from the Douaihys being descendants of “The Prophet” author Kahlil Gibran) is a dark family drama wrapped as a comedy. Even so, the laughter should be more uneasy and uncertain than it was in the crowd on opening night. Maybe the folks were getting genuine kicks out of Joseph’s fear, grief, humiliation and anger. Go figure.
Though Sons of the Prophet, directed by Rob Lutfy, is energized by live-wire character turns that include Maggie Carney as Joseph’s boss, Gloria, and Dylan James Mulvaney as younger brother Charles, it is Hoeffler’s show, as Joseph. He is the core and the conscience of the story, whether he’s trying to understand his failing health, his sexuality or his mourning. Even as you wish that old Uncle Bill would just shut up and that Gloria would take a Xanax and chill, you feel the unsettled heart of Joseph skipping beats in the midst of the madness, and you want the best for him.
The changing scenes are framed by projected references to Gibran’s ruminations – a thoughtful touch. Yet the pace of the play early on is overly conversational and sluggish. The action and the insights ramp up in the second act, which is highlighted by a school board meeting to end all school board meetings. It’s followed by a quietly affecting conclusion.
Gibran may be a cliché, but the contemplative Sons of the Prophet is not.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.