January 18, 2019
Nothing panics parents more than the absence of a teenage son or daughter
after a night on the town. Too many bad things happen between the hours of
midnight and 4 am, and considering today’s instantaneous communications
options, a child’s silence is devastating.
That’s exactly what happens in the Broadway drama An American Son
realistically penned by Christopher Demos-Brown and shaken alive by director
Kenny Leon. When Kendra Ellis-Connor’s (Kerry Washington) son, Jamal, fails
to return home, she personally reports it to the authorities in the steely lit Florida police station, then whips uncontrollably around an erupting core of anger and helplessness.
Unremittingly pinging away at her phone, Kendra gets no response from her son,
his friends or mothers-of-friends. All lines of communication are stilled. Expertly
compounding her frustration, the officious young police officer refuses to give-up
information. Unable to restrain herself, Kendra rages around him, begging, pleading
for information; while he stalls, her gut tells her that it’s “definitely not alright.”
Around this nightmare swirls a heady domestic, social and political
drama. Born of a black mother who is a professor of psychology and white FBI
father, the biracial Jamal (a name the father found “too black”) attends a private school. Smart as a whip, he’s got growing pains and argues with Kendra before leaving home—in part because of an incendiary bumper sticker on his car.
When the assertive, imposing father, Scott (Steven Pasquale) arrives, answers
materialize. Coincidence? Perhaps the officer is impressed by Scott’s FBI
badge—or his white maleness. After all, they both nod in agreement when officer
Jordan whispers this despicable comment: “she goes from ghetto to nothing in
Soon the anger flips from the officer to the couple. She’s rightly horrified by the
camaraderie between the two men. Then they begin to download their own
unresolved affairs. Clearly, a sexual energy lingers between the two, but their
marriage did not survive. A blame game unravels, spotlighting the domestic
land mines. There’s the son who misses his father while simultaneously wanting
to claim his black identity. The dynamic between Scott and Kendra is dead on. In fact, the ensemble cast delivers a potently jarring portrait of life in America.
Demos-Brown invests this nonstop, contemporary drama with an unrelenting
barrage of accusations and questions. Stirred to a neat chill by Leon, the show
does not resolve the conflicts, merely airs them for public contemplation.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis