THEATER REVIEW: “American Son” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

June 23rd, 2016, 1:00 pm by Greg
Luke Smith, Michael Hayden, Andre Ware and Tamara Tunie (photo: Scott Barrow)

Luke Smith, Michael Hayden, Andre Ware and Tamara Tunie (photo: Scott Barrow)

Review by Larry Murray

As artistic director of Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Julianne Boyd is constantly on the lookout for topical, dramatic plays that explore the often thorny and seemingly intractable problems that exist in America. Foremost among these is the racial divide which continues to plague our relationships with one another, as well as the gender gap which often sets husband and wife against one another. Both of these are themes upon which American Son revolves in this world premiere play commissioned by her company.

Race and gender are themes upon which to construct a solid play, but playwright Christopher Demos-Brown ratchets up the conflicts by adding to this volatile mix the current concern about police and policing. While not its main theme, frictions between law enforcement and minorities is touched on, side by side with the fact that most Americans don’t have a solid grasp of how policing works. American Son is a tough, gritty play that – on opening night – held its audience spellbound as this complex gordian knot was unraveled.

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Before the play begins, you know things are going to be a bit harsh when the house lights start to fade a bit before crashing into total darkness. Eerie seconds tick by. Then, when the lights come up on stage we are almost blinded by the industrial lighting of the police station where Kendra Ellis-Connor (Tamara Tunie) is sitting, fidgeting with her smart phone and worried sick about the whereabouts of her son, Jamal. Tunie finds a dozen ways to indicate that she is a bundle of nerves, while impatiently awaiting word from the reticent police rookie assigned to her case. As Officer Paul Larkin, Luke Smith is sufficiently bumbling, overly solicitous one moment, and officious the next, as he tries every strategy he has been taught to keep the worried mom in check.

Click here to read the rest at Berkshire On Stage