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Family dynamics, askew and at times absurd, in 'Sons of the Prophet'

Family dynamics, askew and at times absurd, in 'Sons of the Prophet'
Erik Odom, left, is the journalist Timothy and Adam Silver is former track star Joseph in Stephen Karam's "Sons of the Prophet" at the Blank Theater. (Anne McGrath)

The inevitable pain of human existence receives an exhilarating shake-up in "Sons of the Prophet," the Blank Theatre's latest L.A. premiere and a fairly triumphant one.

Stephen Karam's acclaimed 2011 comedy-drama about two gay Lebanese American brothers in Pennsylvania dealing with spiritual, economic and medical challenges in the wake of their father's death was a Pulitzer finalist, and it's easy to see why.

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Not only do the troubles afflicting protagonist Joseph Douaihy (an assured Adam Silver) resonate beyond the specifics of culture and milieu, they're intriguing in their own right.

For starters, Joseph, a twentysomething former track star, is besieged by a mysterious ailment, which, coupled with the sudden coronary of his father after a freak traffic accident involving a stuffed decoy, forces him to work for Gloria (Tamara Zook, vivid as ever) -- a solipsistic, smilingly hectoring book packager with her own demons -- just to have health insurance.

Charles (the excellent Braxton Molinaro), Joseph's 18-year sibling and polar opposite in personality, has enough on his plate already. And aging Uncle Bill (Jack Laufer, a hoot and a half) rages at everything, from the incongruity of his brother's death to his ire over his nephews' lack of faith. Then Gloria gets wind of the family's alleged connection to Kahlil Gibran and all heck breaks loose.

By couching the unfolding series of calamities and reversals in farcical terms that verge on absurdist at times, author Karam ensures that the deeper issues at play -- perhaps only Chekhov ever found more layers in suffering -- sneak into our brain pans.

And they are realized to the hilt by director Michael Matthews, whose customary sensitivity to nuance and timing is on full display. He has assembled a fine design team -- Rachel Watson's multi-tiered set, Luke Moyer's atmospheric lighting, Allison Dillard's character-defining costumes and Cricket S. Myers' fluid sound -- and a wonderful ensemble.

In addition to Silver and Molinaro, who really seem like brothers, and the wildly entertaining Zook and Laufer, Mychal Thompson shines as Vin, the African American star athlete responsible for the prank that caused Dad's accident. Erik Odom is equally charming as Timothy, a reporter covering Vin's trial and Joseph's potential love interest. The intrepid Ellen Karsten and ever-reliable Irene Roseen fill out a first-rate cast.

One could quibble about certain coincidences and a rather overstuffed feeling to the climax. However, that would be missing the point -- here hilarious, there poignant -- of this remarkably original play.

"Sons of the Prophet," 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 15. $30. (323) 661-9827 or www.TheBlank.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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