Mid-way through American Son it occurred to me that MAYBE it wasn’t my best call to choose this show as our 2019 year opening gamut. Happy New Year group!
When tackling a new year people want to be inspired. They want to be uplifted. They arrive on Broadway hoping to leave the theater with their shoulders back and their heads held high, perhaps humming a plucky tune. They are ready to face the bracing NYC air determined to get busy with the year ahead.
That is the opposite of how I would characterize our departure from American Son. The body language was guarded, shoulders were slumped, mutters of “thanks” were a bit back-handed and the pre-show wide smiles (see below) were long gone. I think I may even have seen some ugly crying on the side. But you know what? That’s okay. Because, while I am certainly a connoisseur of the feel-good musical, this show and it’s balanced exploration of the topic of race and it’s impact was way more important for us to see as we navigate this new year together.
The play – American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown – smartly challenges you, in exactly 87 minutes, to consider multiple perspectives at every juncture of its racially charged story. The set was a sad waiting room at a local precinct, which left the viewer ample room to do nothing but focus on the dialogue and the interaction of the actors. If my group had been given a scorecard at the beginning of the play for each of the involved players…
- anxious African-American mom (deftly played by an unplugged Kerry Washington who looked absolutely spent when the curtain finally went down),
- young white “stereotypical” cop
- white FBI agent, prone to a power play, husband
- experienced and wise African-American cop
…I am fairly certain that our carefully filled out scorecards would have revealed a tie. By that I mean each party’s stance was fairly well represented in this difficult and painful situation that was at the center of the turmoil. And the stances were completely plausible and authentic, making it difficult to unequivocally side with one particular character. Ah perspective! This balance of perspectives is not easily or often achieved and I appreciated being privy to the multiple points of view, though my brain was left spinning with a whole pile of questions and what ifs at the end.
If this performance gave us the viewers, our group, the gift of perspective, then it was EXACTLY the right choice for the New Year’s pick of 2019. While my group’s body language was somber, I don’t think (though I did not talk to everyone) anyone regretted their time at this show. One person commented that she found it quite revitalizing; the author’s script so eloquently gave a voice to what it is we all want to say but have trouble landing on the exact right words.
Grab Your Group and GO Get Some Perspective! Do build in some time afterward for extensive discussions – our Q ride home was not nearly long enough. And do it soon, American Son is closing January 27th.
Here is the BEFORE picture of a subset of us prior to seeing the show. No photos were taken after the show – you can guess why.