Characterizing Space

It's not only true that all the world's a stage but it's also true that all the stage is a world. The setting is often our first encounter of this new world, and the building blocks of that silent, but extremely important, "character" are much the same as those of any compelling fictional one. Technically, the world of a play is always fictional, even when it references a real place. However, by setting a play in the depressed towns of eastern Pennsylvania, playwright Stephen Karam draws on the social and economic history of a specific place and culture.

Karam writes, "This play takes place in a pocket of Pennsylvania that's getting increasingly worn down, small towns whose best days are gone. Cracked sidewalks, weathered siding, leaning porches." But, there's a second geographical location referenced in the play: the Middle East, specifically Lebanon, which is the ancestral home of the main character's family. Not only does the setting reference the loss of economic prestige, in some ways it also leads us to think about the loss of a historical sense of striving: " . . . if the immigrants who named these towns knew that in a few hundred years, their legacy would be reduced to a handful of reminders on green road signs ..." muses a character in the play.

The world of Sons of the Prophet is a layered one: present over past, the new world over the old world, layers that evoke a stripped down legacy, a fall from a more prosperous, meaningful past. In mining the humor and pathos in those layers, Karam portrays a uniquely American phenomenon. It's an immigrant story for the rest of us.

— Lisa Timmel


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