Slouching Towards Bethlehem, PA
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, PA
Posted by Stephen Karam - September 22nd, 2011
This is my first time blogging. Ever. I'll do my best.
The first week of rehearsals has just ended and its been the usual rush of adrenaline, nerves, excitement, discovery, fear, joy. Sons of the Prophet had a production at the Huntington Theater Company this past spring, and I was able to take what I learned from that first run and do a series of big rewrites this summer at the MacDowell Colony (where I worked in a cottage whose previous inhabitants include James Baldwin and Spalding Gray and María Irene Fornés!)
So this first week has been about seeing what new stuff works, what stuff needs to be rewritten and what stuff needs to be thrown in the garbage. The play explores the particularly messy portions of our lives-the times where you find yourself coping with multiple life issues, and before any of them can be resolved-two more show up on your plate. We've all been there, I'd wager.
This play, like everything I write, is deeply personal, but not autobiographical. That said, I should fess up to being half-Lebanese and raised in the Maronite faith (think Roman Catholicism with more incense and Arabic chanting) and across the street from the Douaihy family (a fellow Lebanese-American family with two girls, both friends of mine, both fabulous lesbians). One was recently featured on the New York Times.
Douaihy is the name of the family featured in Sons of the Prophet. Douaihy, like Karam, is a very common last name in Lebanon (you see it everywhere), but one that no one in the U.S. knows how to pronounce.
The above pics are from a recent trip to Lebanon. I spent time in Beirut before traveling north to the town where my grandfather grew up, Zghorta, which is near Bsharri, hometown of Khalil Gibran, who is discussed throughout the play. The mountains in Northern Lebanon are breathtaking...
The rewrites are going well, but it's a stressful time for all involved, as we only have so many rehearsals before previews start. The cast is handling the changes brilliantly; they're all pros, as is our fearless director, Peter DuBois. It's special to be in the room with Broadway veterans and people making their NY debuts. It's a great ensemble. I like creating plays with lots of people (columbinus and Sons of the Prophet both have 8 people), but the reality is that plays with many roles are expensive to produce (I sometimes wonder if Chekhov were writing today-would he have been pressured to do away with The Post-Office Clerk from The Cherry Orchard? Would the Maid/Cook have been kicking around in The Seagull? Would he have dreamt as often about plays with 13, 14 people?) I feel incredibly lucky to have Roundabout's support and to get to work with Peter DuBois and the entire company onstage and the incredible staff working behind the scenes.
Before I sign off I should probably answer the number one question I get asked: "Is your play about gnomes?" It's not. But yes, this is the image associated with the show:
Nor does the play have anything to do with Travelocity. For my own peace of mind, I'm choosing to view the gnome as some sort of weird metaphor for Santino Fontana's character, who is having a very, very bad year. That works, right?
The first week has been unusually busy for me because I've been checking in on another project that also opens this fall, a chamber opera called Dark Sisters. The opera features a Prophet. (Can you see how one work has influenced the other?) It's not a case of jarring influence, though-like when the Harlem Globetrotters used to guest-star on "Scobby Doo"-remember how disconcerting that was?
At any rate, Nico Muhly, the composer of the opera, emailed me this photo, two years ago while I was working on the libretto-
-and it did have an impact on Sons of the Prophet. The picture will have some meaning for those of you who see the play (and stay for Act II). As will the fact that my Dad's birthday is, in fact, December 17th.
The opera opens in NYC on November 9th, but we are currently trying out the set and the staging at a theater in Hunter College. I just came from the sitzprobe. The sitz looked like this:
And the opera tech is looking like this right now:
and the Laura Pels Theatre is looking like this:
I'm slightly terrified of debuting a new play on a stage with a proscenium and more than 300 seats. That's all new for me. And again, slightly terrifying. But while I can't control the pressure that accompanies a more high-profile premiere, I can focus my energy on making the play as good as it can possibly be. And so, back to the rewrites...
If anyone out there has any questions, feel free to send them my way by commenting below.
For more information about the show or to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/offbroadway/sonsoftheprophet/
Read the full Roundabout blog here: http://www.myroundaboutblog.com/?p=5246