Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Matilda the Musical
The play takes place in a Miami police station. In the early morning hours, a black mother is frantically searching for information about her non-responsive son. The police have minimal information to share. She is joined by her estranged husband, who is white. As the two live through their deepest fears, in under 90 minutes we examine racism from their respective viewpoints.
The brilliance lies in Demos-Brown's evenhandedness, both sides equally presented. The confrontations do not dissolve into shrill rhetoric, they are nuanced in a way that suggests characters who have lived themselves into these emotions. The only criticism I have is that the author felt the need for a clear dramatic resolution, and no matter what choice he made, it would be less rather than the more that this magnificent play calls for.
Almeria Campbell plays Kendra Ellis-Connor, mother to a barely adult son. She is giving an emotionally gripping performance, one that ranks with the best I've seen this season or ever. When a playwright gives you great material to work with, it enhances an actor's ability to be brilliant. Rod Brogan is giving a performance that is equal to Ms. Campbell's, but as a member of law enforcement, trained to keep emotions deep within, his character can never register as strongly as hers can.
Daniel Petzold is Officer Paul Larkin who draws the short stick. He can share only limited information with the parents, per protocol, even though the young, green, want-to-save-the-world officer wishes to wrap his arms around both and make the world better. Lawrence Evans as Lt. John Stokes is more deus ex machina than fully rounded character, although Demos-Brown does a quite good job of making him more dimensional than other, less talented playwrights might have.
Director Kate Alexander keeps the drama moving, yet not explosive, so the audience is able to really emotionalize the themes. Costume designer Mari Taylor does appropriate work, but costumes are not going to make or break a production of this play. Lighting designer Thom Beaulieu shows us a stormy night in the background, an adjunct to the stormy emotions in each parent's heart. Usually reliable Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have created a set that feels much more like a penthouse high above, rather than an institutional police station, but that is a minor blemish.
After sitting through a few less than exciting evenings of theater recently and seeing the audience jump to their feet, I was surprised to see not even a few people stand to acknowledge the power of this evening of gripping drama. For me, Florida Studio Theatre's production of American Son represents provocative drama at its finest.
American Son runs through March 22, 2020, at Florida Studio Theatre, Gompertz Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order): Scott Connor: Rod Brogan*