by Mark G. Auerbach
Barrington Stage Company takes a detour from the usual area summer fare of musicals, comedies, and classics with the world premiere of Christopher Demos-Brown’s searing drama American Son. Winner of the prestigious Laurents/Hatcher Award for “Best New Play of 2016”,it’s the second world premiere of the season, commissioned by this theatre.
American Son is a new play by a new voice, the Miami-based Christopher Demos-Brown. Brown sets his play in a Miami police station waiting room (beautifully designed by Brian Prather and lit by Scott Pinkney. A woman of color (Tamara Tunie) is waiting to find out if her West Point-bound son has been apprehended. Her soon-to-be ex husband, a white man (Michael Hayden) joins her to await word. The rookie cop on duty (Luke Smith) is more accommodating of the white father; his superior officer Andre Ware), a black, attempts to relate more to the mother.
In the course of a fast-moving 90 minutes, Demos-Brown has written a strong script, spiked with tension, yet laced with humor, which catapults to a shocking ending. He’s written characters with depth, engaging and raw dialogue, and there’s never a lapse in the drama. Julianne Boyd’s direction brings out the best in the playwright’s and the actors’ artistry. American Son is very much a duet between words and actions.
Tamara Tunie, best-known for her long-run as Dr. Melinda Warner on Law & Order SVU, has numerous theatre credits as actor, singer, and director (She produced the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening). She’s a terrific stage actor, and her performance is multi-faceted, and in the final scenes of American Son, incredibly touching. Michael Hayden from Broadway’s Carousel and Cabaret plays opposite Tunie with depth. Luke Smith and Andre Ware as police officers, one overly-accommodating, and one officious, were excellent.
Theatre can explore many social issues in a way that’s accessible to its audiences. In conjunction with the run of American Son, Barrington Stage is hosting symposiums on July 2-3 as a springboard to further dialogue about race, identity, and bias in America. For details: http://barringtonstageco.org/Season-Shows/american-son-mainstage/
Theatre can also prompt frank conversation. I attended the performance with one of my closest friends; American Son provoked a deep, very personal dialogue about our own experiences with racism and bias. The ride home from Pittsfield was full of anecdotes and revelations, which has kept me thinking about what American Son and Christopher Demos-Brown have to say about our current American condition.
I think American Son has a bright future, and I’m glad it made me re-evaluate my own preconceptions and prejudices. I highly recommend this play and its respectful production and performances. Kudos to Barrington Stage for bringing American Son to the stage.
Barrington Stage Company presents the world premiere of American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown. .Directed by Julianne Boyd. Scenic design by Brian Prather. . Costume design by Sara Tosetti. Lighting design by Scott Pinkney. Sound design by Brad Berridge. Cast: Tamara Tunie (Kendra Ellis), Michael Hayden (Scott Ellis), Andre Ware (Lt. John Stokes), Luke Smith (Paul Larkin) .Through July 9.. Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage.., Pittsfield, MA. 413-236-8888 or www.barringtonstageco..org
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.