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Taking Charge

November 8, 2022

American Son is a gripping new drama that centers on Kendra Ellis-Connor, a distressed mother whose teenage son, Jamal, hasn’t come home. Kendra is unable to get any information about her son from the rookie, Officer Paul Larkin. But when things begin to spiral out of control, Lieutenant Stokes arrives to set the record straight. Lawrence Evans plays Lieutenant Stokes, a disciplined officer who tries to see situations from every angle.

We sat down with Lawrence to discuss American Son‘s themes, his work with the National Black Theatre Festival, and the challenge of playing a character you disagree with strongly.

How would you describe Lieutenant Stokes? What makes him “tick”?

Lt. Stokes is a no-nonsense career law enforcement officer who firmly believes in controlling any situation he’s confronted with. A by-the-book professional who follows the rules, he represents a rather old school approach to the situation involving Kendra’s missing son.

In your opinion, what lies at the heart of American Son?

The play is about perceptions, family, love, fear, anger, and sadness. It depicts the gripping thin ice of an African American man’s life in terms of his mortality or life span. It’s an exploration of the prejudices and biases that black Americans experience, regardless of class, economic status, or ancestry.

What are some of the difficult questions American Son asks?

The play asks, Is there an insurmountable obstacle between a white father and his Black son? What are the challenges of an interracial marriage from society?

How has American Son challenged you as an artist? As a person?

It is somewhat challenging to play a character whose politics I do not necessarily agree with. I recall some of my own experiences growing up in the segregated Deep South, and they allowed me to create an inner life for my character. Lt. Stokes and I both have firsthand knowledge of the racial and social injustice that happens in this country.

In some ways, Lieutenant Stokes is a foil for Kendra. What do you think the playwright, Christopher Demos-Brown, was hoping to achieve in having these characters go “head-to-head” toward the end of the play?

The heated exchange between Stokes and Kendra shows that there is not a monolithic African American point of view on critical issues. Even though Stokes proudly supports his fellow officers, he is not oblivious to the realities of being a black man in America.

You are the Celebrity Coordinator for the National Black Theatre Festival. What is the Festival like?

I have been involved with the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) since its inception in 1989. It was started by Larry Leon Hamlin as an outreach program of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. The Festival takes place every other year in Winston-Salem, NC, and over 130 performances are presented by some of the best African American theatre companies in the United States, Europe, Canada, Caribbean, and Africa.

What do you hope audiences take away from this production?

I hope that audiences will gain a deeper awareness of the prejudices, biases, and social injustices that black people experience on a daily basis, regardless of class or economic status. Hopefully, we can continue to have ongoing candid conversations about race and identity.

American Son played in FST’s Gompertz Theatre from January 22 to March 15, 2020.