BWW Interview: Christopher Demos-Brown on AMERICAN SON at the Adrienne Arsht Center
It was a point of pride to interview celebrated local playwright, Christopher Demos-Brown, about his play, American Son ,which opened on Broadway last November and starred Kerry Washington. South Florida's theater community celebrated one of our own as the play had a wildly successful run on Broadway. American Son will have its Florida premiere at the Arsht Center as a co-presentation with Zoetic Stage of which Demos-Brown is Zoetic Stage's founding artistic director.
Directed by Zoetic Stage Artistic Director, Stuart Meltzer, American Son is set in the middle of the night at a South Florida police station where two parents search for their missing teenage son who is African America . It is a transfixing tale of two people caught in our national divide, with their worst fears hanging in the balance. Playing January 9 - 26, 2020 in the intimate Carnival Studio Theater (Ziff Ballet Opera House), American Son continues Zoetic Stage's 2019-2020 season and the Arsht Center's 2019-2020 Theater Up Close Series.
You were one of the cofounders of Zoetic Stage and now you are coming home to the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theatre with your wildly successful play, American Son, which was on Broadway less than a year ago. What does it feel like coming full circle?
Demos-Brown: It is exciting having the people I actually wrote it for finally get to do it. Obviously, it's been very exciting to have a play on Broadway especially since one of the goals of Zoetic Stage was to create plays that would go out into the world and get other productions. So, this was an example of us achieving what we set out to do.
You mentioned this is the cast you actually wrote for. Is this the cast that did the first reading or what you had envisioned?
Demos-Brown: Three of the four people in the cast did the very first public reading of it.
I didn't get the opportunity to watch American Son on Broadway, but I am definitely one of the many people that got to see the play on Netflix. For those people who had the opportunity to watch it on Netflix, why do you think it is important for them to see it live at Zoetic Stage?
Demos-Brown: It was a very different experience. I think all adaptations are very different from their live iterations. The stage version of this has a real theatricality that cannot be produced on film. It is a real-time play. In other words, it starts and it goes in real-time. That experience is more intense and it is more of a white knuckle experience when you see it in the theatre. I think the inherent theatricality of the piece is much different when you see it on stage. But also, the cast is very different.
In Netflix, the cast skews a little bit younger than probably what the play is intended but I think it worked. It just really has a very different feel when Kerry [Washington] and Steven Pascal which are younger parents of a teenager playing the role as appose to Karen Stephens and Clive Cholerton who are older parents of a teenager. It creates a more poignant sense of desperation for them I think. That is something that is very different about this stage production in particular.
With the story being told in Miami, do you feel like this story will land different since it is connected with this specific audience?
Demos-Brown: There are two ways I think a Miami audience will appreciate it. One is there are specific references to it in the play. The literal geography of the play and where it takes place, where the physical set takes place in a Miami Police station but also the off-stage events all occur in places have specific references so a Miami audience will get that. But also I think the reason for setting the play in Miami, in addition to creating an homage to my home town, we're one of the few states in the country, in addition to being a swing state, we are one of those states where the population reflects what the future of America is going to be rather than the past. To an extent, we reflect the past. Actually, Florida is both a state of the old south but a state of the future. People in Florida get that and some of the things that are baked into our daily experience. The fact that we drive up and down Dixie highway which is kind of a vestige of the old south is something we probably don't notice so much. I am hoping a Florida audience will be hit by the fact that while we are a community that is 60% Hispanic and 30% first-generation immigrants, there is still A VERY OLD confederate architecture on which that new Florida is built.
Is there anything specific you are hoping this audience takes away?
Demos-Brown: I think the play is understandably billed as a play about the African American males and their encounters with police but I hope the play is about something much broader than that which is a play about the way we approach the idea of policing ourselves in general. We live in an unusually violet society for a western country part of the reason for that is we have a lot of guns and we allow ourselves to be policed extremely aggressively. When you allow any society to be policed aggressively the people that suffer first and most are the people most marginalized in this society. That is a part of what this play is about but it is also about parenting and how parents confront those challenges. I hope that is what people take away- an examination of what it means to be a parent when its infused with officially sanctioned aggressive violence in law enforcement.
You are so young and have already accomplished so much. What other hopes and dreams do you have for yourself in the future as a writer?
Demos-Brown: I would love to write for television. I have a contract right now to write something that I am really excited about. I would love to have another play on Broadway eventually. I don't think a writer can count on that but I am hopeful that it will happen again.
Playing January 9 - 26, 2020 in the intimate Carnival Studio Theater (Ziff Ballet Opera House), AMERICAN SON continues Zoetic Stage's 2019-2020 season and the Arsht Center's 2019-2020 Theater Up Close Series.
Tickets to AMERICAN SON are $50, $55*. Tickets may be purchased through the Adrienne Arsht Center Box Office by calling (305) 949-6722, or online at arshtcenter.org.