Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Fate has been unkind to both Joseph and Charles Douaihy, gay brothers of Lebanese descent living in eastern Pennsylvania. A thunderbolt of trouble has staggered their seemingly ordinary lives in suburbia, and they need answers.
In a bright new play by Stephen Karam, Santino Fontana capably leads the way as Joseph, the elder brother, talented runner and potential qualifier for the Olympic Trials. Joseph works at a book packing company alongside his eccentric and emotionally unglued boss, Gloria, played with hilarious quirkiness by Joanna Gleeson. Gloria’s husband has recently taken a fatal flying leap off their balcony, and she’s barely coping; obsessed with pain and suffering, and a faltering book business, she wants to write a book on the Middle East, and Joseph’s family history–they being direct descendents of the famous spiritual poet, Khalil Gibran, who wrote The Prophet.
Fontana lives Joseph’s snakebitten character with clear intelligence and understanding, while his younger more flamboyant brother, Charles, played by Chris Perfetti, adds great energy, color, and fluid talent as a Broadway newbie. Now, both are suffused with grief and confusion at the loss of their mother earlier in the year, and the untimely death of their father in a freak car crash. To add to their misery, Joseph has been stricken with knee ailments that mysteriously points to a more serious underlying illness, and perhaps a tragic end to his running career.
With an intimate, off-Broadway feel, scant sets, often consisting of mere sliding panels for various scenes, and a general pared down look, the play succeeds perfectly in conveying the mundane outer surfaces vis-a-vis the complex underlying psychological issues. Director Peter DuBois gets to the heart of the proceedings with openness and honesty and creates a worthy drama as he leads the characters through a minefield of circumstances beyond their control.
Added to the menu, the brothers have an ailing uncle move in. As adamant touchstone to the past, portrayed as an old -fashioned bigot, he nonetheless tries to keep the family upright while being barely ambulatory himself. He especially tries to keep the boys focused on their spiritual past, and St Rafka, the blind patron saint of pain and suffering. As a family heirloom, her portrait hangs darkly in Charles’ room, somewhat more sinister than uplifting.
With all the lugubriousness and small town gloom, the play is brilliantly saved from the abyss of sentimentality by its constant sweet, dog-earned humor giving the proceedings breathing room, hope and backbone. Presented with commitment, energy, and love this well written play is a must see, and ends with a positive message from Gibran: The most massive characters are seared with scars. All is well.
At the Laura Pels Theatre, New York, NY