Nov 1, 3, 5: American Son

For the SHSU Theatre Department’s production of “American Son” by Christopher Demos-Brown, I fear that I may not be able to give as “in-depth” a critique I feel would be necessary for a play of this caliber. 

While this does not mean this performance is without flaw, I preface the rest of this review by claiming no knowledge of the intricacies of intererracial relationships between African-Americans and their feelings and opinions towards the nature of systemic racism, especially in regard to the police.

I am not knowledgeable enough to give an accurate, thorough review of specific happenings of the story, and I don’t feel as though it is my place. I am still learning myself on how to work past the inherent privilege that a majority of non-black Americans are given. I only wish to critique the elements of this drama that are not as polished in order to allow a more stirring performance of this production to be given.

The first order of praise that should be given to this production is the performance of Kendra, portrayed by Johanna Wylie-Turner. Her performance felt real, and charged. She had incredible chemistry with all of the cast, and having her as the emotional backbone of the play gave a meaningful air of authenticity and truth. 

In contrast to the chemistry, and reality that Kendra brought to the play, the character and performance of Officer Larkin was in a constant state of limbo. He felt like a caricature of the lazy cop archetype. At certain moments it felt as though there was an attempt at sincerity, but with the framing of poor physicality and nonverbals coupled with flaccid line delivery, the sincerity didn’t read. A majority of his performance came from this aloof nature that I felt wasn’t adding anything tangible to a majority of the play, sans for one small moment. 

There was a scene in which Officer Larkin put his hand on his gun when Kendra began becoming more agitated with his lack of assistance in finding out what happened to her son, Jamal. This small moment showed more intricacy and complexity in regards to the tension between these two characters than anything else in his portrayal. 

I feel as though the arrest of Scott was only an act meant to facilitate the conversation between Lieutenant Stokes and Kendra. It felt like forced antagonization only written in to give an air of direct conflict which is relatively devoid in this play. The excuse of his tension beginning to build at the ineptitude of Officer Larkin boiling over into becoming physically confrontational wasn’t shown throughout the course of the production. 

Returning to the conversation between Lieutenant Stokes and Kendra, this felt like the most impactful moment of the production, excluding the reveal at the end. The dichotomy of their ideologies is portrayed exquisitely through the dialogue.

When referring to the comedic elements in the play, they did not read well. Moments in this production were written to give the audience a breather of sorts to release the tension that this play builds throughout its run. While this isn’t a bad thing, the problem comes about when the use of this comedic relief brings down the intensity of the performance, only to almost immediately be brought right back into intense drama. The comedic moments were given in a shoehorned manner that felt demeaning. The comedic relief should have been given with a more dry, sarcastic delivery to highlight the comedic moments without forcefully giving the idea of comedy to the audience. 

This production felt real, and meaningful. I implore anyone to watch this production. It felt difficult and uncomfortable and that was the point. The goal of the production was introspection, and learning, and they did a wonderful job portraying it. If you are unlucky enough to have not watched this production when it was running, a film adaptation of “American Son,” featuring Kerry Washington, is streaming on Netflix. I implore anyone to watch, and learn how to grow themselves and their mindview. 

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