Kerry Washington, of “Scandal” fame, has come back to Broadway with Steven Pasquale in Christopher Demos-Brown’s new play “American Son” at the Booth Theatre. Gut-wrenching and provocative, “American Son” chronicles the murder of unarmed black men by police in the United States. Pasquale and Washington play an interracial, separated couple who share a son in trouble with the police. Washington’s character, Kendra, an African-American psychology professor who grew up in poverty, works to gather more information, but is met with resistance from the officer on duty. On the other hand, Pasquale’s character, Scott, is a white FBI agent and experiences a drastically different experience with their son’s arrest, showcasing divides that exist often between blacks and whites on issues like police brutality.
Scott has left Kendra and their son, Jamal. However, Scott and Kendra are forced to reunite one night when Jamal uncharacteristically goes missing, and Kendra must bring the situation to the police. As an FBI agent, Scott cannot understand Kendra’s fear and doubt in the justice system, and Kendra struggles to make him understand the danger of Jamal’s situation, citing the media reports on young black men who are killed by police.
The inequality between Pasquale and Washington is highlighted by the police officer trying to placate the couple. For example, he provides Pasquale information that he previously told Kendra he didn’t know. Furthermore, he makes racist comments toward Kendra’s behavior — typical of a worried mother — before realizing Pasquale and Kendra’s relationship.
Washington’s performance was highly anticipated, as this was her first project since she wrapped up her role as Olivia Pope in ABC’s “Scandal.” Kerry Washington successfully separated Kendra from Olivia Pope. However, “Scandal” viewers may remember that Washington carried a specific vocal register throughout the show’s seven-season run, even when there was opportunity to shake things up. Unfortunately, this habit of giving a character only way of communicating continued in “American Son.” Washington took the show at one undynamic volume, and by the end her voice was cracking from the stress. While the intensity did keep the audience energized, it was at times overwhelming.
Pasquale truly explored the depth of his character through expression, voice and physicality. His acting became the tool the other actors used to succeed. Pasquale truly stole the show.
“American Son” is a call to action. Scott and Kendra are from different backgrounds, but both hold the same love for their child. Once the audience connects to this humanity, they are able to better understand an unfamiliar perspective. The play’s painful and unrelenting story hopes to leave the audience with the understanding and motivation to mend one of many divides in this country.
“American Son” runs from Nov. 4th-Jan. 27th at the Booth Theatre.
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