Coping with wounds that just won’t heal is the plot of “Sons of the Prophet,” a dark comedy presented by the Grayson College Theatre Department Nov. 21-23 in GC’s Black Box Theatre in the Arts & Communication Building on its Main Campus in Denison.
Written by Stephen Karam, the comedy-drama is an award-winning play and a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is recommended for mature audiences because it contains strong language, adult themes and adult content.
Lebanese-American brothers Joseph Douaihy, played by Denison sophomore Dakkota Foster, and Charles Douaihy, portrayed by Bells freshman Tyler Burns, are distantly related to Kahlil Gibran. A Lebanese artist, philosopher and writer, Gibran is the author of “The Prophet,” a book of 26 prose poetry essays that discuss life and the human condition.
Set in 2006-2207, the family lives in a run-down area of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. They face a myriad of medical, financial and spiritual challenges when their father dies from a heart attack shortly after a car accident. That accident was caused by a prank by Vin, the local football star played by Howe freshman Connor Copeland, who is sent to a juvenile detention center as punishment.
The brothers are forced to not only take care of themselves but also care for their aging Uncle Bill, played by Olney freshman Jesse Alsup. To get health insurance, Joseph (who has mysterious pains) goes to work for Gloria, a book-packager played by Sadler freshman Jordan Curry. When Gloria learns about the family’s ties to Gibran, she tries to convince Joseph to write a book, thinking this will return her to big-time success in the publishing world. All of the characters are dogged by a variety of life’s difficulties, but there is hope, humor and healing sprinkled throughout the production.
Caddo Mills sophomore Hunter McDaniel makes his collegiate directorial debut during this production. He believes the play’s theme is both unique to the production and challenging for the actors, who are college-aged students playing older characters with difficult life experiences.
“The story deals with life’s hardness, but there’s a lot of humor too,” said McDaniel. “In this play, just as in real life, happy endings aren’t always realistic. How we suffer – how we deal with life’s hardships – is what defines character and shapes our lives in ways we never expect. Sometimes, all we can do is hope.”
Robin Robinson, GC theatre director, serves as artistic director on the production but the full weight of directing rests on McDaniel’s shoulders. She selected “Sons of the Prophet” precisely because it tackles tough situations, which stretches the student director and actors.
“We try to pick one play a year that has a little edge to it and is contemporary, which we’ve done successfully with ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ and ‘Art’ in the past two years,” Robinson said. “It gives our students an opportunity to work on literature with merit that’s currently being produced in the professional world. (Playwright) Karam is pretty hot right now, and although very young, several of his plays have already been produced.”
While the play is for mature audiences, Robinson said there’s nothing in it that a student director cannot or should not deal with because most students in their classes – even beyond theatre classes – discuss these kinds of situations and use this kind of language.
“I think the community will enjoy the show if they are looking for a play that is geared toward adults who want to think about the issues portrayed and enjoy a live, dark comedy,” Robinson said.
McDaniel is responsible and a hard worker so he was a natural choice for the director’s role, according to Robinson. She knows he plans to be a high school theatre teacher/director so she wanted him to have directing experience to round out all the other theatre skills he’s learned as a Grayson College theatre student. He will graduate with an associate’s degree in theatre from GC in May and plans to transfer to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville to major in theatre education.
McDaniel first became interested in theatre production as a junior at Caddo Mills High School. It was there – working in the constraints of a small program with a limited budget – that he discovered theatre was what he wanted to do for a living and how to work with limitations.
“Success wasn’t dependent on the budget,” he said. “We learned to work with what we had, and that experience was tremendous.”
McDaniel’s knowledge has grown exponentially at Grayson College, primarily on the technical side of theatre. He found the state-of-the-art technology available at GC to be eye-opening.
“It made me want to learn more about the different aspects of theatre, and directing is part of that,” he said. “It’s been a whole new experience for me.”
Being the director helped McDaniel develop and strengthen his skills to create and visualize. He knew his research would have to be strong to develop and direct characters of age with life struggles unfamiliar to him or his contemporaries in the cast.
“Fortunately, the (student) actors understand theatre, the process of directing, and putting on a production – and their respect level toward me has been the same as toward our professional directors,” McDaniel said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a student director because it’s something that most college students don’t get to do.”
McDaniel enjoyed working with the actors and seeing what they brought to rehearsals. Because they are similar ages, they also have similar thought processes. Encouraging them to make character-appropriate choices in their character development has been fun.
“When those efforts are successful, it strengthens the production,” he said. “For those efforts that fail, we can laugh together and know that at least they were bold enough to try it.”
McDaniel and the cast had help with character development from acting coach Ryan Dusek of Pottsboro. A 2005 GC theatre graduate, he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Mississippi where he studied acting under Joe Turner Cantu. After UM, he got a master’s degree from the New School for Drama in New York where he studied under Tony Award-winning actors like Ron Leibman and the late Paul Rudd. Upon graduation, Dusek co-founded Randomly Specific Theatre Company and acted in New York City for the next four years. He was twice nominated for the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Performance. He’s back in Texas working as a freelance actor and as a regional sales manager for a local company where he says he uses his acting degree every day.
Dusek’s breadth of knowledge has been an asset to McDaniel and the actors. As the acting coach, he consults with the director and together they decide on the approach the director wants to take. From there, Dusek can guide the actors in their character development.
“Ryan encourages the actors do a lot of character work and to make bold choices, and I tweak it to bring it in line with the overall goal and concept of the production,” McDaniel said. “The actors have done a great job with this and they definitely value Ryan’s coaching. What we’re all learning from this collaboration will be useful to each of us in future productions as well.”
“Sons of the Prophet” plays in GC’s Black Box Theatre, which is a multi-functional performance venue. The audience will be seated in the round; that is, on all sides of the staged area. This format provides a more intimate viewing experience for the audience, but poses challenges for both the cast and crew.
“With the audience on all four sides, the actors have to be very aware of how their movements impact the audience,” McDaniel said. “They have to be open to all sides, which is a challenge for them and for me. But we’re learning and, again, it’s something we’ll use in our future as well.”
GC theatre professor Thea Albert designed the scenery, which is using corners on elevated platforms for the first time with this production. The design is based on a board game with the names of each scene painted on the floor.
“We try to do something different every time we use the Black Box and Thea has succeeded in designing an intimate, creative space,” Robinson said. “It’s very abstract, but that’s the genius of her design.”
GC theatre professor Tenna Matthews is technical director and production manager. She oversees Denison sophomore Bryce Dansby as light designer and Sadler sophomore Chris Hendrik as sound designer.
Other cast members include sophomores: Jorge Amador of Princeton as ticket agent; and Katie Gaskill of Savoy and Hunter Malone of Caddo Mills as board members. Freshmen cast members are: Dwayne Bruce of Tom Bean as Dr. Manor; Ashley Coffman of Sugar Land as Mrs. McAndrew; Madison Styles of Durant as physician assistant; and Colton Wall of Whitewright as Timothy.
Sophomore crew members include: Lydia Foster of Denison, costume assistant to designer; Malone, makeup and hair design; Aaron May of Bells, costume design; and Holden Webster of Denison, stage manager.
Freshmen crew members are: Phillip Allen of Mesquite, master electrician; Devin Anding of Jewett, light board operator; Bruce and Styles, props; Coffman, master carpenter; Curry, scenic painter; Trenton Rohret of Wolfe City, sound board operator and scenic painter; and Colt Schell of Denison, assistant stage manager.
GC’s production of “Sons of the Prophet” is recommended for mature audiences due to adult language, themes and content. It features evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 and 21, and a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Nov. 22. Seating in the Black Box Theatre is limited so reservations are recommended. Cost is $3 per person or free with college ID. For more information about the dark comedy, contact the GC Theatre Department at 903-463-8609 or [email protected] .
For audiences that prefer family entertainment, Grayson College Theatre Depart will present a children’s play called “Pirates” in the college’s Cruce Stark Auditorium in February. In April, it will produce the musical “Working” in the Black Box Theatre. Both of those productions are G-rated.