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American Son



                               By Eugene Paul


Several years ago my neighbor called me and asked me if I would accompany her to the police station.  It was late, dark, she was alone, a single mom raising her two sons.  One of them was in some kind of trouble.  Of course I went with her. When she approached the officer at his desk I stayed a few paces back to give her her privacy.  He ignored her. And suddenly, I saw why I was there. I was white. I stepped up beside her.  Attention was paid. We had never been in such a situation before. The whole issue of race roared into my head. I was quaking, thinking of the quiet agony this proud, proud lady suffered to call me. How would this affect our friendship?


Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown grabs this all too American issue by the throat and never lets go. We are in a waiting room in Miami at curtain rise.  It’s a police station. It’s 4 a.m. Utterly still Kendra (luminous star Kerry Washington) has been waiting for hours for information about her missing son. Officer Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) has been desultory to say the least, and condescending as only a cop can be who’s seen too many black mothers worried about their kids, even if this one is smart and challenging and really kind of hot even though she is definitely getting on his nerves.



So he is half relieved  and half puzzled when a high ranking FBI  officer comes by to assess the situation. He  manages to drop a few less than complimentary adjectives about these blacks when the officer walks away from him and stands beside the black woman. It’s  Scott (Stephen Pasquale), her husband. Her white husband.  Officer Larkin’s “Oh, shit” moment. Now, more information comes out. None of it good. Their teen age son, Jamal, has been driving his father’s Lexus around town with two other black teen agers, the only blacks in their private school of four hundred.  How do you think the kids feel?




And then you ask how does  her estranged husband feel?  First off, why would he, Scott, even leave Kendra? Oh, sure, the other woman  but do you really buy that?  And yes, their teen age son is acting out but   if he is acting out is it because the father he idolizes has rejected him? And his mother?  Because they’re black?


Playwright Demos-Brown has us ping- ponging with differing viewpoints , biting questions, which, of course, we react to as  given us by our fine cast. But not until we get a real blast from superb Eugene Lee as Lieutenant Stokes do we realize that they’ve been acting, hard, Washington, Pasquale and Jordan, giving their conscious all in their performances.  Lee, however, as the station commander taking hold of the entire situation is  bracingly real as REAL, a blinding realization and a lift to thriller proportions for the play.


Yes, director Kenny Leon, full of spirit and know-how, the go to guy for getting the most out of contemporary black plays in the latest idiomatic nuances, here focuses on his leading lady. Without her starriness the play wouldn’t be here on Broadway. He has wooed her into giving a performance beyond anything she has ever done but cannot convince us she’s ever had a son, let alone a Jamal, a sea of  raw, mixed up emotions pushed beyond limits by racial ugliness. Her beauty, her success, her security undercut her character, undercut the play. Her Kendra is not the rage  of flame the play aspires to. Leon knows it and brings the brutal final curtain down swiftly, the smart thing to do.


Scenic designer Derek McLane”s Old Miami updated police station is surprisingly just right, Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting couldn’t be better and Peter Fitzgerald’s design of a Florida summer storm makes us uncomfortable in the best way in this outstanding physical production. Playwright Demos-Brown is being given  a stunning debut.


American Son. At the Booth Theatre, 225 West 45th Street.  Tickets: $59-$250. 212-239-6200. 90 min. Thru Jan 27, 2019.