HAMPSTEAD THEATRE SWISS COTTAGE LONDON NW3
3 DECEMBER 2022 – 14 JANUARY 2023
WRITER: STEPHEN KARAM
DIRECTOR: BIJAN SHEIBANI
CAST: RAPHAEL AKUWUDIKE, JULIET COWAN, JACK HOLDEN, RAAD RAWI, IRFAN SHAMJI AND ERIC SIRAKIAN
Left to right: Juliet Cowan & Raad Rawi; Irfan Shamji; Holly Atkins & Sue Wallace (photos Marc Brenner).
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
In Stephen Karam’s latest play there are plenty of punch lines for the ensemble of characters reeling in the aftermath of Joseph Douaihy’s father’s untimely death following a sport student’s roadside prank. At times, it’s all a bit bewildering as everyone’s backstories unravel. Set in rural Pennsylvania, and embedded in the Maronite diaspora, Karam has set quite a task bringing many cultural variants to stage combined with complex personal issues.
At one point the play descends into a people’s court as two women in wigs, played with comedic precision by Sue Wallace & Holly Atkins, listen to both sides of the case as they decide whether to suspend the footballer from college.
Not only is Jospeh Douaihy (Irfan Shamji) from the Lebanese Maronite Christian sect related to a Maronite philosopher (hence the title), he is also gay and an athlete thwarted in his prime by illness. As a result, and because it’s America, Joseph stays in a useless job to keep his medical insurance. As if that isn’t enough, he’s pursued by Timothy (Jack Holden), the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) journalist, looking for a scoop on Joseph’s father and the college student incident to further his career. In addition, there’s a brief love interest between Joseph and the journalist which, to be honest, lacks spark.
Joseph’s younger, partially deaf brother Charles (Eric Sirakian) is also gay. Gloria (Juliet Cowan) the employer is a wealthy widow whose husband, it turns out, committed suicide. She has underlying stress or distress issues. The young footballer Vin (Raphael Akuwudike) is mixed race and about to break the glass ceiling but might be brought down by his prank. Finally, there’s elderly uncle Bill (Raad Rawi) who provides opportunities for the younger crew to roll their eyes at his racist, sexist faux pas.
Apart from Charles’ quip at his older brother that he “looks like a lesbian” as if just saying that is hilarious, most identity assumptions are put in their place with quirky jokes and sighs.
Juliet Cowan is entertaining as the unhinged widow forever trying to get her foot out of her mouth and Raad Rawi is perfect as the loudmouth uncle with unrestrained, disregard for whatever is socially acceptable.
The question remains, however, what is Sons of The Prophet about? Is it about the father’s accident or the sports student’s future or American health insurance or Maronites? Is it just about Joseph? There are any number of “abouts”, although it’s certainly not about Joseph and Timothy’s fling.
All these “abouts” can be overwhelming but in the end, they turn out to be the strength of the play. Life is tricky. Individuals are complex. It sounds general, but there you go. If a torch is shone on anyone it would probably show a medley of experiences, personality traits, cultural make-up, discriminations and privileges. In this respect, courtesy of a commendable cast led with a good balance of desperation and acceptance by Irfan Shamji as Joseph, Sons of The Prophet charges ahead with wit and energy.