Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 29, 2019

REVIEW: TheaterWorks, American Son

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through November 23, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Having experienced the world premiere of “American Son” at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield three years ago, seeing the play again was a must. This powerful, dramatic, and timely story kicks off TheaterWorks’ 34th year.

While “kick” is used metaphorically, the word serves as a perfect description of the crux of the play. “American Son” is a kick in the gut to audience members no matter what side you are on, or color. Each of the four characters has his/her own perspective on situations. In the case of “American Son,” the situation is life or death.

Racial tension at its height, racial profiling, interracial marriage, the race card, and black lives matter; it’s all there in your face, especially if your face is black. It would have been impossible for writer Christopher Demos-Brown to pen “American Son” 20 years ago, even 10 years ago to share the tension and meaning of its message. At the very least, patrons likely would have felt that the plot was unfamiliar; yet in the 21st century the story is, as the phrase goes, “ripped from the headlines,” and uncomfortable.

The central characters are an estranged couple; wife is black, husband is white. The set is a police station waiting room. The pair start off as any worried parents would, waiting for their missing teenage son. with questions and angst. Layer upon layer the plot adds questions, angst, remorse, speculation, and psychological and physical combat.

Ami Brabson (wife/mother) paces every crevice of the room. She enunciates her words and speaks “white,” having assimilated into the world that her PhD requires. She speaks fast, as if rushing will make her crisis over sooner than later. Brabson displays internal torture, oozing out of every pore in her body and every syllable from her lips.

J. Anthony Crane (husband/father) portrays a dad who has raised his son in the practical ways of life. Without ever seeing the main character, the son Jamael, the audience knows who this young man is, especially through his relationship with his father. Brabson and Crane make for a purposefully uneven match in a marriage which had problems even before it began.

Supporting actors John Ford-Dunker (young police officer) and Michael Genet (senior police officer), flesh out the story primarily through their often-used and hesitant politically correct dialogue.
“American Son” is a tough play to watch, perhaps more difficult for black audience members. It speaks to any parent who cares for and fears for his/her child. Not being in either of these categories, “American Son” cannot help but affect everyone.

Kudos to TheaterWorks on its renovations. TW has turned their once dreary and somewhat confusingly navigational venue into a spiffy venue. Finally, the theatre looks worthy of the quality of TW’s productions.