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Finalist for 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Winner of 2012 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
Winner of 2012 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play
A deeply humorous, unflinching portrait of grief and loss, Sons of the Prophet depicts a Lebanese-American family in rural Pennsylvania beset by an absurd string of tragedies. At the play’s center is Joseph Douaihy, a once-promising world-class ...
Finalist for 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Winner of 2012 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
Winner of 2012 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play
A deeply humorous, unflinching portrait of grief and loss, Sons of the Prophet depicts a Lebanese-American family in rural Pennsylvania beset by an absurd string of tragedies. At the play’s center is Joseph Douaihy, a once-promising world-class runner now sidelined by injury. As Joseph confronts his deteriorating health, he is also forced to face the death of his father, an ailing Uncle, and a desperate boss beset by her own tragedies. Deftly keeping its various storylines in careful balance, Karam’s play confronts, with abundant intelligence and great sympathy for human frailty, the inevitability of loss and the equally inevitable comedy resulting from our attempts to cope with is consequences.
(JOSEPH stands in a pool of light and performs a simple arm stretch: an ulnar nerve glide. There's a kind of grace to his movement; he has the body awareness of an athlete.
Lights reveal his location: a modest office in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The room is expansive. It's also virtually empty except for two desks. One desk is beautiful and bare save for a copy of the New York Times. The other desk is ordinary and crowded with office supplies.
GLORIA, a well-dressed woman, enters with an Allentown newspaper. JOSEPH stops his stretch, returns to the ordinary desk.)
GLORIA: Joe, have you seen these headlines? I'm beginning to think Pennsylvania is the Alabama of the North.
JOSEPH: No, Gloria, did you get my e-mail? I need to leave early—
GLORIA: No, my Blackberry is busted, think you can fix?
(She plops the Blackberry on his desk. The phone rings.)
JOSEPH (answering the phone): Gloria Gurney's Book Packaging, how may—no, wrong number ... bye.
GLORIA (engrossed in the newspaper): With everything going on in the Middle East can you believe the paper leads with a story about high school football? A preseason look at who's the favorite to go to Hershey for the state playoffs ...
JOSEPH: Yeah, well, football's big here.
GLORIA: I'm learning. I spent most of my life in Manhattan, so ... I keep forgetting parts of Pennsylvania never made it above the Mason-Dixon line.
JOSEPH: I just need you to sign where I've flagged—
GLORIA: We're in Nazareth for the love of God, how can we be so detached from the Middle East when—drive ten minutes and you find yourself in Bethlehem, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, or any other town off I-78.
JOSEPH: Just need you to sign here ... also, I need to leave early—
GLORIA: Oh of course, I thought you might need to, go, get out of here—
JOSEPH: Why would you think I might /need to—
GLORIA: Well because of ... I heard about the bombing of the Lebanese airport, the civilian casualties—have you not seen the news?
JOSEPH: No, I mean, I've caught bits and pieces of it on TV, /but—
GLORIA: And that's exactly what Beirut's been reduced to again, isn't it—bits and pieces, God ... so much suffering in that part of the world ...
(They both go about some business. GLORIA scans her copy of the New York Times.)
I don't know how the Lebanese are able to endure so much pain, it never ends for them, does it? ... and these images of Israeli tanks driving by Beirutis while—Beirutis sounds like a fruity candy, is that the right— /Beirutis?—
JOSEPH: Beirutis is the correct /term, I think.
GLORIA:—oh good, good, well ... I'm sure your family agrees that Israel's, their desire to defeat Hamas is so /untenable—
JOSEPH: Hizbollah, I think you /mean—
GLORIA:—oh Hizbollah is, also, yes, as well.
(Beat. They go about separate bits of business.)
JOSEPH: Did someone tell you I'm Lebanese?
GLORIA: Well, you do share a last name with a young man who helped run the geography bee at Nazareth High this weekend ...
JOSEPH: I see.
GLORIA: I joined the board of that foundation, I sponsored the whole event, so when I heard them announce "former champion CHARLES Douaihy"—Douaihy isn't a common /name—
JOSEPH: No, yeah, CHARLES is my brother—
GLORIA: Yes, well, I found that out after speaking to one of his teachers, so ...
JOSEPH: I see.
GLORIA: ... who also told me that your family was Lebanese, so ...
JOSEPH: Yeah, we are.
GLORIA: No keeping secrets in Nazareth, that's all I'm saying.
JOSEPH: Right, but you realize I wasn't keeping a secret.
GLORIA: Right, but you realize I'm only bringing it up because ... there were all these people at the event who were surprised I didn't know you had a brother, that's all I'm saying.
JOSEPH: What people were surprised?
GLORIA: Well, that's not the point of the matter, you're missing the point of the /matter—
JOSEPH: Oh sorry, wait—what is /the point of the—
GLORIA: The point of the matter is just that you shouldn't feel shy about discussing your family /in the office—
JOSEPH: No, I'm not shy, /I just—
GLORIA: No no no, I understand—
JOSEPH:—when I'm in the office I just don't like to discuss /my personal life.
GLORIA: Your brother's disability.
GLORIA: Oh I [thought you were going to say]— sorry, sorry ...
JOSEPH: No, I—I just don't like to discuss my personal life in the office—
GLORIA: I respect that, obviously.
(They go about some business.)
The, the only reason I even brought it up is that ... and you may have already ... picked up on the reason /why—
JOSEPH: Not really, what is the reason /why—
GLORIA: Well, Joe, here's the ... even if no one's willing to discuss it, much of the publishing industry won't do business with me anymore.
JOSEPH: Who's not willing to discuss that?
GLORIA: I'm saying, Joe, you know where I'm coming from; you're a runner and—and with the knee problems you're having—we both know what it's like to be suddenly sidelined ...
JOSEPH: I guess, yeah.
GLORIA: Yeah, yeah, we both know what it means to be on top, then ... suddenly, fall from grace.
JOSEPH: I didn't fall from grace, I think I tore my meniscus.
GLORIA: I'm saying I was hurt you never told me—the teacher I spoke with, she mentioned your brother did a whole report about a famous Lebanese relation of yours, which is, Joe, that's all I've been trying to say.
JOSEPH (genuinely unclear): What have you been trying to say?
GLORIA: You are a blood relative of Kahlil Gibran!—the bestselling author of all time behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu!
JOSEPH: No, no no—we're distantly related, as in our great-great grandfathers /were cousins—
GLORIA: I don't care if he's your grandfather's fifth cousin removed—Gibran's name sells books—why would you hide this from me?
JOSEPH: I wasn't hiding anything—Gloria, I am Lebanese. And my parents were born in Bsharri, but that's the extent of my Arabian heritage. Look at me, I'm white. We were born and raised in Pennsylvania. We're white.
GLORIA: Yes, but you're white in the same way a Jewish person is white, you see what I'm saying?
JOSEPH: What are you saying?
GLORIA: We'd pitch it as a family memoir: I'd hire the right ghostwriter, weave in Gibran quotes—
JOSEPH: There's no story, you'd have to make stuff up.
GLORIA: The best memoirs are fictional. We can work in your athletic ambitions—a former Steamtown Marathon champion—
JOSEPH: My training's on hold—
GLORIA: Then we'll work in the athletic comeback element—
JOSEPH: I might not recover—
GLORIA: If Lance Armstrong died of testicular cancer, would he have won the Tour de France?
JOSEPH ("That makes no sense."): No.
GLORIA: Precisely. The whole meaning of The Prophet according to Gibran is: "You are far, far greater than you know, and /All is well."
JOSEPH: All is well, I know. My father says that all the time.
(Beat. GLORIA senses JOSEPH doesn't want to continue the dialogue, but can't help herself—)
GLORIA: In Arabic, or does he speak /English—
JOSEPH: I need to get going, /I'm sorry—
GLORIA: Of course, no I'm sorry, look why don't you just ask your father if he'd be willing to—
JOSEPH: My father is in the hospital. He was in a car accident.
GLORIA: A car accident?
JOSEPH: Yes, I sent you an e-mail because I didn't want to discuss this in the office, so ...
GLORIA: Oh my God ... I'm sorry, you shouldn't even have come in—
JOSEPH: ... he's stable—I was at the hospital all weekend, my uncle's with him now ... /that's why I need to leave early, so ...
GLORIA: Oh my God ... of course, I'm so sorry /I didn't know ...
JOSEPH: I'm fine, it's okay—
GLORIA: It's not okay ... God, JOSEPH, what happened?
JOSEPH: He was doing maintenance work up at Penn State, and driving home he swerved to avoid—the police think it's some sort of deer decoy hunters use or—there's also a deer statue near Dunmore High School, they don't know—it was all smashed, so—
GLORIA: The Dunmore mascot?
JOSEPH: Well, /the police think ...
GLORIA: That'd make sense, their mascot is—they're the Mighty Bucks, yes? ...
GLORIA: ... though bucks have antlers, so if it was a deer decoy, a female deer, it wouldn't have antlers, I hope the police know that.
JOSEPH: I'm just glad ... my dad could have died.
GLORIA: Do they know who did it?—
JOSEPH: Gloria, sorry, can you sign where I've flagged here?—this sets up the health insurance plan under the name of your business. And your Blackberry isn't broken, you just need to charge it.
GLORIA: Of course, I'll get that, here, go, get out of here ... and give my best to your mother. How's she holding up?
JOSEPH: Oh, my mother is /dead—
GLORIA (genuinely embarrassed): Dead, oh God she's dead you've told me ten times, /I'm so sorry ...
JOSEPH: It's fine, /don't worry about it ...
GLORIA: No, I'm so sorry. She died of—it was cervical cancer, right?
JOSEPH: No, and /I—
GLORIA: Was it your aunt who had cervical—
JOSEPH: I don't know anyone who's had cervical cancer—
GLORIA: Someone had—was it your cousin who—
JOSEPH: My uncle had to go on oxygen a few weeks ago, I might have mentioned that.
GLORIA: That's what I'm thinking of, that's it.
And how's your little brother holding up? God love him ...
JOSEPH: He's fine.
GLORIA: The teacher I spoke with said he has a, uh ... hearing problem, but maybe she meant ... is it ...
(GLORIA picks up a paper on his desk.)
... just noticed this handout on M.S., does he have—
JOSEPH: No that's just some scrap paper—can I please have that? Sorry ...
(JOSEPH puts the paper in the recycling bin.)
CHARLES doesn't have—she probably told you he was born with one ear, it's not a big deal, he had one made out of his own cartilage when he was six, so you can't even tell.
GLORIA: One ear, what are the odds.
JOSEPH: It's not all that uncommon a defect.
GLORIA: Right, no, I'm just saying it's not as common as being born with two ears, is my only point.
JOSEPH: What is your only point?
GLORIA (answering her cell): Hello?—one second, JOSEPH—yeah? ... uh-huh ...
JOSEPH: Your Blackberry has no power.
GLORIA: ... great ... okay, call me later, I'm talking with my assistant ... bye.
(GLORIA puts the phone down. Beat. JOSEPH picks up the phone, plugs it into the charger. They look around the room.)
GLORIA: You should know I'm clinically depressed.
JOSEPH: I should go.
GLORIA: I'm on medication though.
GLORIA: I'm sorry, normally I, I don't like to discuss personal matters in the office, I don't, it's just ... ever since my husband's suicide, I've ... did I tell you my husband /took his own—
JOSEPH: No, God ...
GLORIA: ... it's too painful for me to talk about, but ...
JOSEPH: I'm sorry ...
GLORIA: ... he did, so ... he grew up in this area, we built a home here, I thought moving back would ... but for now his family wants to stay ... estranged from me, so ... I don't have very many /people to—
JOSEPH: That's fine.
GLORIA: Thanks, Joe.
(JOSEPH is about to leave.)
Oh, and can I ... also ... ask you ... not to ...
(Gloria gestures toward a bottle of pills, hidden on JOSEPH's desk.)
.. leave any kind of ... medication lying around ... I have a bit of a, I'm in recovery—
JOSEPH: Those are for my knee pain—did you take some of these!?—
GLORIA: I, I take others that counter the effect—
JOSEPH: That's not what I'm worried /about—
GLORIA (starts to pick up some paperwork on JOSEPH's desk): Is the knee pain why you've been doing all this /paperwork?—
JOSEPH: Just leave that—the business bureau's helping me and it'll be better for you tax-wise—
GLORIA: Why not let me pay you extra, you can buy private insurance—
JOSEPH: Because I have a preexisting condition that makes me ineligible to do that, okay? I have to get it through my employer so I'm, I'm happy to do the paperwork, okay?
GLORIA: Okay, I'm sorry. Go, get out of here.
(GLORIA, a bit wounded, picks up the New York Times again, studies the images.)
(Half to herself): So much suffering ...
(JOSEPH is at the door; he studies GLORIA.)
JOSEPH: You'll be okay?
GLORIA (nodding "yes"): ... and I'll wait to speak to your father about the book until he's—once he's recovered from the, uh ... testicular can/cer—
GLORIA:—car accident, I know—God what did I say—
JOSEPH: Testicular /cancer—
GLORIA: Right, because, who do I know that had testicular—
JOSEPH: Lance Armstrong.
GLORIA: Right, that's it, that's it.
JOSEPH: My family is very protective of their history. They'd never agree to a book about their past. It's a bad idea.
GLORIA: Some people think it's a bad idea to offer full health coverage to a part-time employee.
JOSEPH: That's irrelevant, Gloria, it was the major reason I accepted the position. You know that.
GLORIA: I also know ... it's more than just knee pain you've got, right?
(GLORIA takes the M.S. pamphlet out of the recycling bin, puts it on his desk.)
You need health insurance. I need a book. You see what I'm saying?
JOSEPH: I have to go.
(A small doctor's office. JOSEPH's uncle, BILL, and brother, CHARLES, sit in the corner on two hard chairs. JOSEPH sits on an exam table. A PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT speaks to JOSEPH regarding his MRI films.)
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: ... the MRI reports show some clear deterioration in your knees, they're arthritic—
JOSEPH: Why is this happening?
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: You have hypoplastic trochleas—if you /look here—
JOSEPH: What does that mean?
BILL: Is this bad? What is that?
CHARLES: What's a hypoplastic trochlea?
JOSEPH: Guys, let me ask the questions, please. (To the PHYSICIAN's ASSISTANT) Is this because of my running?
CHARLES: He won the Steamtown Marathon—
JOSEPH: CHARLES, /shuttup please—
BILL: Hey relax, /okay?
JOSEPH: Then tell him to wait outside.
CHARLES: I'm here to support you—
BILL: Calm down, we're fine. I'm sorry.
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: It's fine. You're the father?
BILL: The uncle.
CHARLES: Our father died—
CHARLES: It's not a secret, relax.
BILL: Okay, all right ...
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: I'm sorry to hear that.
CHARLES: Thank you.
BILL: Hypo-what, doc? You were saying—
JOSEPH: Uncle Bill, can you let me do the talking, sorry—just ... (to the PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT) ... just talk to me, please ...
CHARLES: I can't believe you say "doc" ...
BILL: /Don't be wise.
JOSEPH (to CHARLES): Please wait out in the waiting room—
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: I'm actually a physician's assistant—
CHARLES: I'm not waiting in the waiting room—tell him to calm down.
BILL (half in Levantine Arabic): Hey, habibi skot—CHARLES, do you hear me? Skot, ma tehko. [Quiet, don't speak.]
(The PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT isn't sure whether to address anything that's just been said.)
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: The doctor'll show you the films, you'll be able to see the divots, the lines in the bones where the cartilage is being worn away—
(During the previous line, CHARLES switches places with JOSEPH so that his good ear is closer to the PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT.)
CHARLES: Can you say that again?
JOSEPH (to PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT): He can't hear out of his left—(to CHARLES)
CHARLES: I am, Bossy.
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: I'm just giving you guys the rundown, the doctor will be in shortly—
JOSEPH: Could the inflammation be caused by something ... else, some kind of ... my arms have been feeling a little, I dunno ... burning and ... heavy? Kind of—I'll wait to ask the doctor.
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: Yeah, bring it up, and also—in your history you have your father checked as living, but he just said—
JOSEPH: Yeah, sorry, he died a few weeks ago.
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: I'm sorry. And the cause of death?—we need the history—
BILL: He died because of some asshole kid—
JOSEPH: Heart disease. Stop talking.
BILL:—some jerk thought it'd be funny to put a deer decoy in the middle of a dark road—
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: Oh God I read about this, /I'm so sorry ...
JOSEPH: Yes but that's not—that's not how he died. A week after the accident he had a heart attack, the doctor thinks they're unrelated.
BILL: Of course it was related.
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: Does heart disease run in your family?
JOSEPH: Yeah, and my father's cholesterol was off the charts.
BILL: I don't like the way you say that, "his cholesterol was off the charts," like he committed a grave sin.
CHARLES: He doesn't mean it that way.
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: Did they find out who caused the accident?
BILL: Oh, the police found the asshole ...
JOSEPH: No—please stop talking.
CHARLES: This is a sensitive subject—
BILL: The boy happens to be the star of Cedar Crest High School's football team. A team that's pretty competitive this year, so guess who's getting treated with kid gloves—
PHYSICIAN'S ASSISTANT: What do you mean?
Excerpted from SONS OF THE PROPHET by STEPHEN KARAM Copyright © 2012 by Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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