American Son: A Story of Love, Identity, and Loss
By Irene Cucuta
It’s 4AM and Kendra Ellis-Connor is sitting in a police station, she keeps looking at her phone like she’s waiting for an important phone call or text. The look on her face is one of concern, fear, and despair. You can hear the rain coming down hard as it hits the glass windows. After a few minutes of silence and waiting to see why she’s sitting there, she makes a phone call to Jamal, her son. She sounds very annoyed as she asks where he is and why isn’t he answering her text messages. She stands up, paces back and forth, and proceeds to make another phone call. This time when she leaves a voicemail for Jamal her tone is different. It’s sweet and apologetic. Kendra says, “It’s me again. Honey, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to get angry. Call me, please” (American Son). Kendra makes another phone call to someone named Jeffrey, she leaves a voicemail, and then Officer Paul Larkin enters the waiting room.
American Son is by Christopher Demos-Brown, starring Kendra Ellis-Connor played by Ami Brabson, Scott Connor played by J. Anthony Crane, Officer Paul Larkin played by John Ford-Dunker, and Lieutenant John Stokes played by Michael Genet. This play takes place inside of a Miami-Dade County Police Station at 4AM on a dark and rainy morning. An interracial couple, Kendra and her estranged husband Scott, are waiting for answers from the local police department because their 18-year-old son Jamal never came home. I would recommend this play because it brings you face to face with racial tensions, unstable family dynamics, loss, and biases against police officers which allows us to have those uncomfortable conversations and address situations in our own lives and communities.
The entire play takes place on one set, a police station waiting room. Kendra Ellis-Connor, an African American mother is desperate for answers from the local police department regarding her 18-year-old son Jamal. She gets the runaround from a white cop, Officer Larkin, who tells her that all he knows is that her son was detained in a traffic incident. Kendra goes to get a drink of water just as her husband Scott, who is an FBI agent, enters the police station. Officer Larkin assumes that he is the leading officer on the case, Lieutenant John Stokes, and begins to give him information on Jamal’s case. Frustration and anger begin to set in as Kendra and Scott continue to feel like their questions aren’t being answered which leads to Scott being detained by Officer Larkin. Shortly after Scott gets a text message from his brother. It’s a video. As they watch the video you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that we’re not going to get a happy ending in American Son.
If you ever get the opportunity to see a play performed at a theater, it is a worthwhile experience. Watching a play is an amazing and interactive feeling. You can feel the story as the actors perform it. It allows you to have more of an appreciation for the arts and I think that is very important. TheaterWorks is a smaller and intimate setting which I prefer. As you sit there and watch the actors pour their hearts into these characters that they are portraying it makes you appreciate the experience on a deeper level. I was thankful that I was able to attend the matinee performance of American Son. It was an intense drama and the actors did very well to transform themselves into their specific roles.
American Son had many wonderful aspects and just a couple that I did not enjoy. First, I loved that there were only 4 actors because it felt simple and allowed their roles to make more of an impact. I also enjoyed the content; we are faced with many levels of discrimination and injustice all over the world and this was able to shed some light on these topics. Lastly, I was excited to see Ami Brabson perform live because she was a regular on one of my favorite shows Law and Order SVU. One of the things that I did not enjoy were the scenes where it felt dragged out like when Kendra and Officer Larkin go back and forth, after a few minutes I was ready for the next scene. The second thing I did not enjoy was the storyline of the police department. The way they withheld the information for so long and kept stringing Kendra and Scott along felt unrealistic. Overall, I enjoyed the play and think that the actors did an amazing job.
American Son is a 90-minute play that packs a punch with topics that many people don’t want to address. In this play we see racial discrimination, marital tension, and family disconnect to just name a few. Over the summer, TheaterWorks had another play that touched on racism. According to The Hartford Courant article “’American Son’ an absorbing, suspenseful drama about racial profiling at TheaterWorks,” a local theater critic compares Demos-Brown’s play to a recent play when he says: “Some of its same racial themes were argued in another TheaterWorks play – Actually by Anna Ziegler, just a few months ago” (Arnott). Arnott concludes that while these plays have a similar theme, American Son had a more in-depth racial theme (Arnott).
I have already recommended American Son to my family and friends because I think that it is current with issues that our country is facing today. I believe that it would be enjoyed by a variety of movie goers, for example young adults that can relate to Jamal who was searching for his identity in the world, sons or daughters, coming from a broken home and struggling with abandonment caused by mom or dad. Interracial married couples who suffered the loss of a child at the hands of a police officer. Lastly, anyone who has ever felt racially profiled or discriminated against. I thoroughly enjoyed my first play experience at TheaterWorks, I hope to return soon so that I can expand my appreciation for the Arts.
Arnott, Christopher. “Racial-profiling drama ‘American Son’ brings TheaterWorks back to Pearl Street.” The Hartford Courant, 10 Oct. 2019, http://www.courant.com/ctnow/arts-theater/hc-ctnow-preview-american-son-theaterworks-20191010-klhicqemzzegtl5ihppohinhdy-story.html.
Arnott, Christopher. “Review: ‘American Son’ an absorbing, suspenseful drama about racial profiling at TheaterWorks.” The Hartford Courant, Oct. 2019, http://www.courant.com/ctnow/arts-theater/hc-ctnow-review-american-son-theaterworks-20191025-hzfvmg7qizcjznwpcnrmsd6osy-story.html.
American Son. By Christopher Demos-Brown, directed by Rob Ruggiero, performances by Ami Brabson and J Anthony Crane, TheaterWorks, 30 Oct. 2019, Hartford, Connecticut
Course: ENG 102 Literature and Composition, Fall 2019
Assignment: Drama Evaluation
Instructor: Daniela Ragusa