Sometimes we’re all stymied at how many bad things can happen to one person or one family. The playing field is definitely not level when God is running the game. Take the Lebanese-American Joseph and his family, as an example, all living in a small Pennsylvania town. The dark comedy off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theater, part of Roundabout’s current season, directed by Peter DuBois, features Joseph, a runner hoping to make the Olympics, who finds he no longer can run, is suffering from some strange diseases causing constant pain that are yet to be diagnosed, and also happens to be gay as is his younger brother Charles.
But, there’s more. Their father was in a car accident caused by one of the local school football players who thought it might be funny to put a deer statue in the road, where Dad’s car hit it, putting him in the hospital and a short time after had a heart attack and died. The incident has the town in a whirl. In addition, sick Uncle Bill is living with them and they had to build a separate bathroom where the door doesn’t close and that’s another short story.
Now Joseph, in order to be covered by medical insurance, is working for a kooky rich lady, with a bit of a drug problem, who runs a publishing company whose husband recently committed suicide. She finds out that Joseph’s family is related to the famous Khalil Gibran and pesters him about writing a book using it as possible ammunition if he wants to maintain health insurance. Are you getting the picture?
Out of all this lunacy, is a pathetic but very likeable Joseph (Santino Fontana) whose dry wit and body language does much to convey all the sorrow spiked with humorous moments. However, is there any reality in all this? I personally didn’t feel it, nor did I think that many of the laugh lines were fodder for amusement. I got the feeling that the whole thing was improbable and orchestrated and, although playwright Stephen Karam is an exceptional writer, and there is a lot of glib dialogue, there was too much implausibility.
The cast is talented, no doubt, and Fontana is the definitive highlight. Joanna Gleason as Gloria, Joseph’s boss, seemed like a droll caricature throwing one-liners to get laughs. Teen brother Charles, (Chris Perfetti) adds fun to his swishy character; Uncle Bill (Yusef Bulos) was an annoying politically incorrect senior in a walker. In addition, there is Joseph’s love interest, a reporter Timothy (Charles Socarides) who was trying to get the scoop on the family tragedy, and Vin (Jonathan Louis Dent), the irresponsible football player whom Uncle Bill refers to as a mulatto. Needless to say, Gibran’s famous book The Prophet has a place in this play as well. Dee Nelson and Lizbeth Mackay both play multiple roles; one of the funnier moments taking place at the bus station where Dee Nelson plays the woman behind the counter.
Surely we find laughable moments within tragic situations but you’ll have to decide for yourself on the believability scale on this one.
Laura Pels Theater, West 46th Street, thru December 23rd. 1 hr. 45 minutes, no intermission. www.roundabouttheatre.org