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A CurtainUp NJ Review
American Son
I sat around here almost a half hour, you couldn't tell me a damned thing(except maybe how to go on a self-guided, Jim Crow tour through the building). — Kendra
American Son
John Bolger and Suzzanne Douglas (photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)
This is one of the more difficult plays of the season that I've had to wrap my head around. The impact of its message and the imprint of its presentation has lasted long after its conclusion on its opening night at the George Street Playhouse.

Christopher Demos-Brown's one-act play is driven by a long-standing social imperative made more acute by the current political climate. But it is explosive not only because of the imploding situation we witness, but because of the complex and diverse nature and behavior of its four characters, each of whom reveal through their occasionally incendiary rhetoric aspects of their own shortcomings.

Under the taut direction of David Saint, American Son goes to the heart of the matter with an unrelenting earnestness. Kendra Ellis-Connor (Suzzanne Douglas), an African-American, is worried, impatient and close to frantic. She's in the waiting room of a police station in Miami-Dade County, Florida (nicely designed by Jason Simms). It is 4 am. She has reported that her just turned eighteen year-old bi-racial son Jamal left home in the evening in the Lexus registered to his father and not returned. Fearing the worst and not getting the answers to any of her questions from a polite and scrupulously conscientious rookie officer Paul Larkin (Mark Junek) assigned to night-duty, her patience is at an end.

Kendra is increasingly unnerved by her failed attempts to reach her estranged husband. The young white officer appears somewhat naive in dealing with a crisis. His efforts to not agitate her and stick strictly to protocol provide moments of humor.

The officer unwittingly becomes a target for her frustration and her ill-advised digs and spurts of condescension. The arrival of Kendra's white estranged and contentious husband Scott Connor (John Bolger), an FBI agent who left his home four months ago despite his devotion to their son, is welcomed but unsettling.

Irish and volatile Scott soon enough finds himself himself immersed in an emotionally heated confrontation with Kendra that culminates in a physical altercation with the tough as nails African-American Lieutenant John Stokes (Mark Kenneth Smaltz). Stokes loses no time asserting his authority and taking control of the situation.

That there is only a minimum of valleys between the many peaks of emotional eruptions That there is only a minimum of valleys between the many peaks of emotional eruptions make this otherwise well-written play a little exhausting.

Kendra's high-pitched tirades diminish our empathy for her. Douglas's performance is unquestionably as real as it is fierce She reveals herself both irretrievably abrasive and also unmistakably fractured by her failed marriage. The usually even tempered Scott becomes curiously and even implausibly unhinged in dealing with the officers. Scott and Kendra attempt to review and revive the chemistry that initially brought them together is not quite credible.

Junek is terrific as the inexperienced officer who decides to bend the rules and reveal there was, indeed, an incident. There is no pretense or posturing in Smaltz's performance as the supervising Lieutenant who makes it clear that young black men need to "shut their mouth and behave" if they want to survive on the street these days.

While we can sit back and admire the stand that an educated self-empowered black woman takes in the face of law enforcement officers, we all have to acknowledge the grim reality that racial equality is still far from our reality.

The play which had its world premiere at Barrington Stage last summer (our review ) has been optioned for Broadway next season. It was recently awarded the Laurents/Hatcher foundation Award given for a production of a new play by an emerging playwright.

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American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown
Directed by David Saint.

Cast: Suzzanne Douglas (Kendra Ellis-Connor), Mark Junek (Officer Paul Larken), John Bolger (Scott Connor), Mark Kenneth Smaltz (Lieutenant John Stokes)
Scenic Design: Jason Simms
Costume Design: David Murin
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design: Christopher J. Bailey
Fight Direction by Rick Sordelet
Production Stage Manager: Thomas Clewell
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
George Street Playhouse 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,
Performances: Tuesday through Saturdays at 8 pm Thursday, Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m. Sundays at 7 p.m.
From 02/07/17 Opened 02/10/17 Ends 02/26/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/10/17

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