Galen Roth (left) as Joseph and Daniel Shtivelberg as his brother, Charles, in Evolution Theatre Company’s production of Sons of the Prophet (photo by Skylar Branstool)

New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. Outer Critics Circle Award. Pulitzer Prize finalist. All this, plus a rave review in The New York Times.

Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet picked up lots of praise after opening off-Broadway in 2011. In subsequent regional productions, however, its reviews have been more mixed. After seeing Evolution Theatre Company’s production last weekend, I suspect the tragi-comedy is a tricky piece that benefited from a brilliant premiere production but has been less fortunate ever since.

Here in Columbus, ETC’s production definitely leaves one wondering what all the fuss was about. Though director Mark Phillips Schwamberger elicits good performances here and there, they aren’t enough to distract viewers’ attention from the overall lack of coherence and energy.

The problems start with Galen Roth’s portrayal of the protagonist, a Lebanese-American Pennsylvanian named Joseph Douaihy. The play is a portrait of human suffering as personified by the 29-year-old former athlete, whose daily life is marked by physical pain and family tragedy. Yet Roth’s Joseph is so laid back that we don’t sense how any of this has affected him.

Almost as troubled is Joseph’s part-time boss, Gloria, who is trying to keep her publishing business alive while dealing with the sudden loss of her husband. She’s clearly an emotional mess, and actor Leslie Robinson attempts to play her that way. Unfortunately, a few stumbles and hesitations kept her from carrying it off as well as she might have at the performance I saw, particularly during a long opening scene with Roth.

Daniel Shtivelberg is generally on target as Joseph’s younger brother, Charles—who, like him, is gay. Alec Clairmont is believable as Vin, a high school jock who gets in trouble after a highway prank goes fatally wrong (in one of two developments inspired by actual events).

Ethan McAnlis, as a gay TV reporter, injects welcome energy into his all-too-brief scenes with Joseph. Playing multiple supporting roles, Angela Palazzolo seems a bit overwhelmed, but Kathy Sturm fares well, especially as Joseph’s former teacher.

Finally, director Schwamberger ages himself effectively as Joseph’s decrepit uncle, Bill, though one can’t help wondering if he wouldn’t have been better off fobbing the role off on someone else so he could have concentrated on honing the production.

I mentioned that Sons of the Prophet is a difficult piece to carry off. Besides dealing with such tragic topics as illness and death—even suicide—playwright Karam delves into issues such as religion and cultural identity. And he attempts to do it all while fishing for laughs, the theatrical equivalent of a sleight-of-hand trick.

ETC deserves credit for following up its August production of the historically fascinating musical tick, tick…Boom! with this equally heady project. But maybe the troupe should have taken a little more time between shows in order to deal with the new play’s massive challenges.



Evolution Theatre Company will present Sons of the Prophet at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. 1-800-838-3006 or