BWW Review: AMERICAN SON at TheaterWorks
Sometimes the most powerful theatrical experiences are the ones that hit closest to home. In today's America, with racial and political divides growing ever wider and tensions building to a breaking point, it might just be a play like Christopher Demos-Brown's AMERICAN SON that will shine the brightest light on these issues, not only pointing out the flaws and imperfections, but providing a spotlight for all of us to truly see. And, by offering this intense and thought-provoking piece as its opening play (of the season and of their newly remodeled space), TheaterWorks Hartford boldly illustrates why it is well-qualified and well-appointed to deliver such a powerful night of theatre.
AMERICAN SON is a fast-paced and intense 90-minute play that takes place in real time inside a waiting room at the Miami-Dade County police station in the middle of a dark and stormy night sometime in the recent past. Two parents are looking for answers about their 18 year old son, Jamal, who they know has been pulled over and involved in some "incident" but are not getting the answers they need from the police. Jamal's mother, Kendra Ellis-Connor (Ami Brabson) is an African-American college professor who is recently estranged from her white FBI agent husband, Scott Connor (J. Anthony Crane). Jamal did not come home the night before, leading a panicked Kendra to the police station. She tries to get a young officer, Paul Larkin (John Ford-Dunker) to help her but, due to protocol, he is able to share very little. The parents are told to wait for the A.M. Liaison, Lieutenant John Stokes (Michael Genet) who can get them some answers when he arrives. Time ticks by slowly while tensions are heightened as this couple fights desperately for facts about what has happened to their son.
Christopher Demos-Brown's script for AMERICAN SON is tight and quick, and he uses phrasing that, in just a few words, highlights the significant differences between the various characters. It is this myriad of differences that drives the dialogue - parental, marital, social, and most especially, racial disconnects raise tensions and create a non-stop sense of conflict on stage. Rob Ruggiero's direction is equally tight, using each of the 90 minutes wisely and leveraging the small setting and the frantic characters to create the sense of being trapped in the action unfolding in front of you.
Each of the four actors in AMERICAN SON do a great job conveying their piece of this important story. Ms. Brabson and Mr. Crane are argumentative but clearly still care about each other and their son. They both illustrate brilliantly the desperation, confusion, anger, and helplessness of these parents. As the young cop who does his best to help but also follow protocol, Mr. Ford-Dunker is flustered yet good-hearted. And, as Lieutenant Stokes, Mr. Genet is powerful and stoic.
The creative design for AMERICAN SON at TheaterWorks works very well to punctuate the tension and drama of the play. Brian Prather's stark police station set immediately conveys a sense of discomfort, foreboding and fear. Matthew Richard's lighting and Frederick Kennedy's sound work hand in hand to fill the space with the thunder and lightning of the stormy setting.
AMERICAN SON runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through November 23rd. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to twhartford.org.
All Photos by Lanny Nagler