Black mothers, hug your sons and hold them close. Keep them safe by letting them know there’s a way to behave if pulled over by the police. You can’t give police any provocation, no matter how you were raised, no matter what prep school you went to, no matter if your father is a white FBI agent because, based on the color of your skin, you already have points against you. Black young men, be careful how you wear your clothes and your hair, and even what bumper sticker you have on your car, because you are being judged on those things, too. Black young men, when you hear of the Eric Garners of the world, realize that can be you. All these messages are what come across loud and clear as you watch the brilliant Broadway debut of Christopher Demos-Brown’s “American Son,” at the Booth Theatre on West 45th Street.
Demos-Brown gives the audience the compelling, heart-wrenching story of Kendra Connor (played by Kerry Washington) as she is at the police station searching for her son, Jamal. A rookie white police officer in Miami, Fla., Paul Larkin (played by Jeremy Jordan), is barely giving her any information and asks her insulting, stereotypical questions about Jamal, which are very upsetting. Information only comes when her white husband, an FBI agent named Scott Connor (played by Steven Pasquale) comes to the station.
Scott left his family months earlier to be with a white woman, and it caused his son great sadness and made him depressed. Although Jamal has a high IQ, is very well spoken, has had everything money can buy and was sent to the best prep schools, he also had an identity crisis because he grew up with very few Black friends. Jamal also is a deep young man who, in hearing about the murders of Black men by the police, felt a connection with them. As a Black man in America, he was the “representative” of his race throughout most of his educational life. His mother understood his suffering and his struggles, and she tried to let him find himself.
The only person with some answers about what happened to Jamal is police liaison Lieutenant John Stokes (played by Eugene Lee), who talks to Kendra about what her mistake was as a Black woman in raising her son in today’s society, despite the money and privilege he was accustomed to.
As Kendra and Scott talk about their relationship, and Kendra shares the last argument she had with Jamal before he drove off Lexus in his birthday, you realize that he is a very confused young man who was rebelling against a society in which Black male lives have become part of the statistics.
Washington is explosive as Kendra. She delivers this role with passion, emotion and devastating power. Washington represents the fears, the pain and the anguish that all Black mothers with sons feel today. Pasquale is extraordinary as Scott, a man who married a Black woman and raised a biracial son but can’t bring himself to call his son by his name because it’s too Black a name. Lee is superb as Lieutenant Stokes and beautifully displays the conflicts of being a Black man who is also a policeman, a Black cop who does feel frightened when he stops a car in an inner city neighborhood because of all of its negative attitudes toward police. Jordan is splendid as the cracker cop who is trying to be politically correct but wears his racism on his sleeve.
This story and cast are magnificently, cohesively brought together by moving direction by Kenny Leon. Real life is not a fairytale, and neither is this play. It is a dose of real life that will leave you stunned, moved and changed. It’s something you will want to see with your son and hug him afterward! For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit americansonplay.com.