About the Author:
Playwright Stephen Karam, whose family drama Sons of the Prophet is gearing up to open off-Broadway after its debut at Boston’s Huntington Theater, is right at home at off-Broadway's Laura Pels Theatre. He has nothing but fond memories of his last play, Speech & Debate, the inaugural production at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Underground space one floor below his current venue. The Brown University grad and MacDowell Colony Fellow is also the author of columbinus (produced at New York Theatre Workshop) and Girl on Girl (Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep). He’s now hard at work on a film version of Speech & Debate and new project Dark Sisters, an original chamber opera with composer Nico Muhly. Below, Karam lets Broadway.com in on what it feels like to be back on his old stomping grounds, move into his first proscenium theater and finally quit his day job.
Sons of the Prophet is a dark comedy about human suffering. The play explores the particularly messy portions of life—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.
The play will be performed at the Laura Pels Theater on 46th Street on a stage that is literally directly above the black box theater where my last play, Speech & Debate, premiered. Under Todd Haimes’ leadership, Roundabout created a black box theater whose sole mission was to house premieres by writers who are just starting out and have zero name recognition. Even better, tickets for all shows cost $20. Now having graduated to the bigger stage (my first proscenium!), I’m overwhelmed, anxious and, of course, excited—though I admit part of me wants to crawl back down the 87 flights of steps to the black box, where less seats carry less pressure. That said, the transition has been particularly special and fluid because I’m working with the same wonderful Roundabout staff who helped launch Speech & Debate. I’ve also got a fantastic partner in crime in Peter DuBois, our fearless and fabulous director. Returning to 46th Street has been like coming home.
When Speech & Debate premiered, JT Rogers’ great play The Overwhelming was on the Laura Pels stage. The relationship of the black box/Pels means that you occasionally have some sound spill into the wrong space. Because The Overwhleming is about the Rwandan genocide and Speech & Debate deals with a girl who rocks out in a nude bodystocking to “Freedom 90”…this led to some memorable quotes:
“Guys, right when the Rwandan Hutu brandishes his machete we can hear George Michael.”
“Is there any way that guillotine could fall after Diwata’s power ballad?”
“Before the masturbating monologue, we get distracted by Tisola’s cabbages falling onto the stage.”
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to having the same great relationship with the new black box show, Suicide Inc., and I pledge to not drop any cabbages onto the floor if I can help it.
The start of previews also marked the first time I’ve opened a play and have not simultaneously been working a 30 hours a week day job (Holla, Susan Blackwell!) In the last seven years, I’ve opened four shows (and still more readings/workshops) while being a legal assistant to several Canadian lawyers. It was a lot of work, but also a great gift to have that kind of security—security that allowed me the creative freedom to write my own stories, including Sons of the Prophet. Susan has noted that Broadway is a fickle mistress. Well, off-Broadway is kind of like the fickle mistress’ destitute BFF. In fact, I’d still be at my day job if not for a random collision of several projects at once, including my opera Dark Sisters, which opens November 9 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre. I realized my ability to focus on rewrites would be hindered by my day job schedule, so it was time to say goodbye. The Canadian lawyers all understood, were incredibly supportive and will all be at the Laura Pels this fall.
Previews have just started. This is the time where you, the audience, start to inform the next wave of rewrites. Director Peter DuBois and I will be noting when you’re bored, when you’re enjoying the show, when you’re wishing there was an intermission so you could use the restroom… We’ll be paying close attention and improving the show accordingly.
For more insights on the first week of rehearsals, check out my Roundabout blog entry here.