Cygnet Theatre's San Diego premiere of Sons of the Prophet could be regarded as two hours of schadenfreude, the enjoyment in the suffering of another. In Stephen Karam's 2011 play, the unfortunate one is 29-year-old Joseph Douaihy (Alex Hoeffler). He lost his father in an auto accident caused by a high-school jock's prank. He works for a certifiable nutcase just so he can get adequate health insurance, which he needs because his once-athletic body is deteriorating, muscle by muscle. He's suddenly the head of a household that includes his precocious, hearing-disabled brother and an uncle who bellows racial insensitivities and takes dumps in a living-room closet converted into a toilet. Oh, and Joseph's also coming to terms with his homosexuality.
So why do we laugh? We're not really enjoying poor Joseph's suffering, but Sons of the Prophet (the title comes from the Douaihys being descendants of The Prophet author Kahlil Gibran) is a dark family drama wrapped as a comedy. Even so, the laughter should be more uneasy and uncertain than it was in the crowd on opening night. Maybe the folks were getting genuine kicks out of Joseph's fear, grief, humiliation and anger. Go figure.
Though the play, directed by Rob Lutfy, is energized by live-wire character turns that include Maggie Carney as Joseph's boss, Gloria, and Dylan James Mulvaney as younger brother Charles, it's Hoeffler's show. His Joseph is the core and the conscience of the story, whether he's trying to understand his failing health, his sexuality or his mourning. Even as you wish that old Uncle Bill would just shut up and Gloria would take a Xanax and chill, you feel Joseph's unsettled heart skipping beats amid the madness, and you want the best for him.
The changing scenes are framed by projected references to Gibran's ruminations— a thoughtful touch. Yet the pace of the play early on is overly conversational and sluggish. The action and the insights ramp up in the second act, highlighted by a school-board meeting to end all school-board meetings. It's followed by a quietly affecting conclusion.
Gibran may be a cliché, but the contemplative Sons of the Prophet is not. It runs through Feb. 15 at the Old Town Theatre. $24-$64. cygnettheatre.com
The Darrell Hammond Project: Darrell Hammond, the longest-tenured cast member in the history of Saturday Night Live, tells his own life story in a one-man show. Opens Jan. 31 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Stage Kiss: In this farce, two actors with a romantic past are cast in a play about two people with a romantic past. Opens in previews on Jan. 30 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Venus: A play based on a true story of Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman, a 19th-century South African who was put in a sideshow in London because of her large butt. Presented by the UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance, it opens Jan. 28 at UCSD's Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre. theatre.ucsd.edu
The Lion in Winter : King Henry II summons his previously imprisoned wife and his three sons to decide who'll wear the crown next. Through Feb. 1 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Plays by Young Writers: The Playwrights Project presents four full productions and four staged readings of plays written by local kids ranging in age from 12 to 18. It runs through Feb. 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. playwrightsproject.org
' night Mother : Last November, Ion Theatre produced a staged reading of this play about a divorced, epileptic woman whose life is a mess and she wants to end it. Now it's back as a full production. Through Feb. 7 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Steel Magnolias : A newly married young diabetic and the question of whether she should have a baby are the focal points of a play about the friendship of a group of women in Louisiana. Through Feb. 8 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Wrong Window : In a madcap send-up of Alfred Hitchcock, a man finds his neighbor's dead body in his closet. Through Feb. 8 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest : A rabble-rouser fakes mental illness in order to serve his sentence in a hospital rather than prison. It doesn't end well. Through Feb. 14 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Gunmetal Blues : By-the-numbers film-noir parody gets the musical treatment. Through Feb. 15 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Sons of the Prophet : In this Pulitzer Prize finalist, a gay adult Lebanese immigrant living in Pennsylvania must care for his younger brother and ailing uncle in the wake of his father's sudden death. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Feb. 15 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Tribute : A charming, humorous, middle-aged man faces a life crisis, prompting him to attempt to resolve his troubled relationship with his son. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Feb. 15 at the Legler Benbough Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel : Director Tom Salamon's latest immersive theater experience takes audiences in and out of various rooms and other spaces inside one of San Diego's coolest hotels. Presented by La Jolla Playhouse, it runs through Feb. 22 at the Lafayette Hotel in University Heights. lajollaplayhouse.org
Trouble in Mind : In 1955, black actors struggle with their roles in a Broadway play-within-a-play that's produced and directed by white men. Through Feb. 22 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Murder for Two : In this musical, one actor plays a detective, and another plays 10 different people who are suspected of murdering a famous novelist during his birthday party. Through March 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat : In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an "amazing" garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through March 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me : Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net