Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Nov 14, 2013
01:55 PM
Stage Write

All Is Well

All Is Well

PHOTO BY ZANE WILLIAMS

Michael Herrold, Marcus Truschinski and Jake Penner try to find a way through life's multiplying crises.

Marcus Truschinski’s face is an expressive, elastic thing, ideally constructed to convey emotions like exasperation and anguish with equal ease. He gets to wallow in plenty of both in Forward Theater Company’s production of Sons of the Prophet, playing in the Overture Center’s Playhouse through November 24.

Truschinski plays Joseph, the older of pair of young brothers drowning in an ever-rising sea of problems. Joe’s battling a mysterious illness that could be a torn meniscus or could be a symptom of something much, much worse. His father’s been in a serious accident, his crusty Uncle Bill (Michael Herold) is ailing and likely to have to move in, and he has to work a depressing job just to make sure he’s got health insurance.

Prophet playwright Stephen Karam—his script was a Pulitzer nominee—understands the ways the tiny dramas of everyday life can topple with the blow of a sudden tragedy, and his script hones in on the ways other people’s needs often encroach and overwhelm our own. Director Jennifer Uphoff Gray focuses on them, too, teasing out the awkwardness and yearning in the conversations between the characters, each of whom is seeking something from the others.

Sometimes it’s bald, as when Joe’s socially awkward publisher boss, Gloria (Angela Iannone) learns his family’s distantly related to the Lebanese poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, and pressures Joe to write a book about it. Sometimes it’s subtle, like in the yearning bus-station interplay between Joe and an adventurous reporter (Nicholas Harazin) who’s been sent to cover the story of Joe’s father’s accident. Truschinski does a great job portraying a guy who’s forced to take on more responsibility than he can handle, even though he doesn’t fully know who he is yet.

One of the play’s more entertaining ironies is the way characters like Uncle Bill and Joe’s geography-obsessed brother Charles (Jake Penner) become convinced that events in Joe’s life are somehow “signs” from The Prophet, as a means to guide them all to a better life. The Prophet’s kitschiest catchphrase, “all is well,” becomes something of a running punchline, since for Joe and his family, it clearly isn’t.

For the most part, Gray and her cast do a great job of balancing the play’s comic/serious tone—the play really is funny, despite the characters' constantly mounting crises. It doesn’t always work perfectly. The humor in the school board hearing at which the high school football star/prankster (Riley Faisom) who inadvertently caused the accident that felled Joe’s dad ends up undercutting the raw emotion in Uncle Bill’s angry speech.

Love the way Joseph Varga’s set features an interesting collection of angled lines, possibly representing potential paths Joe’s life might yet take, but also forming triangle-shaped shards that seem almost to assault him or explode outward from the shockwaves of his crumbling reality.

“No one should spend their life searching for stability,” Gloria says at one point, a fearful look in her eyes. True, perhaps, but that’s exactly what most of us end up doing. Forward’s take on Sons of the Prophet shows us that journey can be painful, irritating and occasionally hilarious, but there’s reward—and relief—in soldiering onward. 

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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