By Lydia Baxter
It’s every parent’s nightmare—your child is missing and you have no idea what happened. You’ve tried calling them, but they’re not picking up. You’ve checked in with their friends, but they have no idea where they are. Your heart is pumping. Your mind is racing. All you can imagine is the worst.
This is exactly where we find psychology professor Kendra Ellis-Connor in American Son: in the middle of a maternal nightmare.
“Kendra is unrelenting and will not take no for an answer,” said Almeria Campbell, who plays Kendra in FST’s production. “She wants to know where Jamal is, and more importantly, if he’s okay. It’s any mother’s story.”
Set in a Miami-Dade police station, American Son follows Kendra’s hunt for answers about her teenage son, Jamal, who didn’t return home after going out with his friends. Desperate and afraid, Kendra turns to the only other person she can find for answers: a police officer named Paul Larkin.
Tensions rise when Officer Larkin can’t give her a straight answer about Jamal’s whereabouts, only revealing that Jamal was part of a “traffic incident.” Things totally spiral out of control when Scott, Kendra’s estranged husband, arrives at the station.
“American Son is a stunning drama that took my breath away when I saw it,” said Richard Hopkins, FST’s Producing Artistic Director. “What lies at the heart of the play is the relationship between a separated couple and their common love for their son who is in trouble.”
“This play asks us to see this one young man [Jamal] as our own son,” added American Son Director Kate Alexander. “We are not watching a play about others—those who differ from us in culture, class, or background—we are watching ourselves. The play invites us to identify with this couple in their plight and your heart joins their quest. In that moment, he becomes your son.”
Although Jamal and his whereabouts seem to be the central focus of American Son, he never appears onstage. Since the audience never sees what Jamal looks like, we are invited to imagine who he is and what he looks like for ourselves. So everyone’s image of Jamal is different. Everyone is able to enter the story and feel that Jamal belongs to them.
Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown also puts the audience in the shoes of parents Scott and Kendra, as we experience the gut-wrenching fear and despair right alongside the couple.
But Demos-Brown doesn’t just leave you there. Instead, he asks you to try to see things through Officer Larkin’s eyes as well, or to consider the perspective of Lieutenant Stokes, a middle-aged no-nonsense police officer. Demos-Brown takes you on a journey where perspectives are constantly shifting and beliefs are regularly in question.
“I’ve heard audiences applaud one character’s line and then the next second, applaud another character’s line when they’re expressing completely opposing points of view,” shared Christopher Demos-Brown of American Son.
Demos Brown’s newest work distinguishes itself from other contemporary plays by encouraging audiences to hear and consider each character’s stance on topics like love, identity, class, and culture.
“If we listen carefully,” said Alexander, “we will think about things and feel things that we never have before. The play will take you there. Come with an open heart and fearsome mind.”
American Son played in FST's Gompertz Theatre from January 22, 2020, to March 15, 2020.