Review by Tulis McCall
This is a play that will stay with you. in American Son Christopher Demos-Brown has written a play that takes a pick-axe to our identity as a country. FYI – it is on shaky ground. And in case you have been living under a rock and missed the repeated killings of our young black men over the past few years – this play will walk you down that lane. And not in the way that you expected. The story is about more than one young man. It is about all four people at this Miami police station. It is about all of us.
We meet Kendra (Kerry Washington) alone in a police station waiting room. She is the mother of Jamal, who has been missing since the previous evening when he left to spend time with friends. Jamal has never stayed out all night without Kendra knowing where he was. Scott (Steven Pasquale) is Jamal’s father and arrives will after we have gotten the lay of the land. We learn that Scott and Kendra have been separated for four months. The separation has torn them all up and apart.
Officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) has the unenviable task of being the person on late night duty who has to face Kendra. This is a very, very smart woman who will not hesitate to bust down any barrier between her and her son. Where Jamal is becomes murky ground, and the details are doled out like bird seed. Once Scott appears at the station, things of course move more quickly. Because he is guy. What Larkin does not plan on is that Scott has Kendra’s back and demands every bit of information they are both due. Oops.
This is not a simple situation of waiting around for news. The rage that is the lining of this relationship slides to the surface in very short order. Every ragged edge is exposed and thrown at the other. Not only do these two resent the situation between them, they each have opposing opinions on how their son should be conducting his life. Jamal, from all information we glean, is an unusual young man headed to a prestigious academy who has created his own path in spite as well as because of his parent’s influence and goals
As the facts start to circle closer, Lieutenant John Stokes (Eugene Lee) makes an appearance at the station and grudgingly promises to get more information on Jamal’s whereabouts. He takes extreme exception to Kendra’s attitude and her willingness to challenge him at his every move.
Both Kendra and Scott are reduced to their marrow as the night proceeds. There is hardly anything of them left by the time we all walk with them to the conclusion of the tale. While Washington and Pasquale take on the challenge of performing mutual open heart surgery on one another, they are not supported as well by Jordan or Lee. Mr. Jordan has the job of making the small talk of an officer who is stalling until someone with a higher pay grade shows up, and his performance plateaus early on, giving Washington and Pasquale little to play against. Mr. Lee is almost comical in his performance with exaggerated gestures and a thundering monotone. The writing is not easy here, and it needs skilled actors – which neither of these gentlemen appeared to be. These are two critical parts with lynch pin importance and it was surprising that these were the best that New York had to offer Mr. Leon. The delicate pacing that he creates is the final element in this play. Leon’s use of silence and simplicity fuels the raw situation better than any stormy display could.
As to the writing itself, there was more than one moment I wondered, “Would these two being going at each other like this in real life?” I come from a family who shuts down angry displays – so I could be way off the mark here. Besides – this is a version of reality. This is a construct created to bring us to that junction where we feel the heat instead of sitting in our easy charis once removed. In that, Christopher Demos-Brown has succeeded mightily.
American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown – Directed By Kenny Leon
WITH Jeremy Jordan (Officer Larkin), Eugene Lee (Lieutenant Stokes), Steven Pasquale (Scott), Kerry Washington (Kendra)
The creative team includes Derek McLane (Scenic Design), Dede Ayite (Costume Design), and Peter Fitzgerald (Sound Design).
American Son was awarded the 2016 Laurents/Hatcher Award for Best New Play by an Emerging Playwright.
Ticket Information: Tickets are on sale at telecharge.com, 212.239.6200, or at the Booth Theatre box office (222 West 45th Street). Ticket prices range from $79-169. Student rush tickets will be $35. All prices inclusive of $2 facility fee, subject to availability. For groups of 10 or more, contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or 866.302.0995.