Thursday, October 31, 2019

Review of "American Son"

The storyline of the play American Son, receiving a riveting production at Theaterworks in Hartford, feels like it has been ripped from the headlines of the nightly news.  An African-American woman, Kendra Ellis-Connor, is anxiously seated in the waiting room of a Miami Beach police station in the early morning hours, awaiting word about her missing son.  A young white police officer attempts to placate her continuous entreaties while peppering her with racially inappropriate questions.  Soon, the mother’s estranged white husband, Scott Connor, enters the scene demanding, with somewhat better success, information about the whereabouts of his 18-year-old son Jamal.  Each time the policeman exits the room the husband and wife quarrel over such hot button issues as poor child rearing practices, lack of parental responsibility, and the role of privilege in a multi-racial family.  A police lieutenant’s entry into the fray only serves to complicate matters.  Tempers flare up on all sides as the investigation into Jamal’s disappearance reaches its uncompromising conclusion.

Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown has crafted a work that, sadly, remains real and to-the-moment.  He adeptly weaves in such issues as racial profiling, establishing Black identity, and the problems interracial couples face.  In a small sense, the play is a character study of a Black and White married couple, now estranged, who are coping with intimate and significant details of their lives.  On a larger scale, the play is about the still considerable racial divide in our country.  The dialogue and scenarios are strong and compelling. 

The cast is led by Ami Brabson as the mother of the missing boy.  She brings a strong-willed determination to the role, but also confusion and impertinence as her character desperately seeks answers from the police and her estranged husband.  J. Anthony Crane, who plays husband Scott Connors, exudes an air of arrogance and self-assurance that impedes his judgement and actions with his wife, son, and the police.  Michael Genest, in his short time on stage as the African-American Police Lieutenant John Stokes, displays forcefulness and compassion along with a no-nonsense manner.  John Ford-Dunker, is convincingly bland as Office Paul Larkin, a young man who is woefully ignorant of his racial insensitivity.

Rob Ruggiero’s taut direction keeps the audience entranced with the clashes on stage.    His assured hand deftly manages the various conflicts and overarching themes presented in the production.  He skillfully allows the suspense to build to its startling climax.

Brian Prather’s Scenic Design of a small, sterile waiting room brings the encounters into sharp focus.  The Sound Design by Frederick Kennedy, primarily of the threatening thunderstorm brewing outside, helps provide an ominous tone to the production.  Lighting Designer Matthew Richards utilizes harsh glowing fluorescent lights that flood the stage, leaving no place for the characters to hide.

American Son, a captivating and challenging production to start Theaterworks 34th season in their newly renovated facilities.  Information and tickets are at

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