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American Son starring Kerry Washington review at Booth Theatre, New York – ‘gripping and impassioned’

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale and Jeremy Jordan in American Son at Booth Theatre, New York. Photo: Peter Cunningham Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale and Jeremy Jordan in American Son at Booth Theatre, New York. Photo: Peter Cunningham

The timing could not be more apt for a Broadway theatre to offer a play that puts race at its centre.

This world premiere by a hitherto unknown Miami-based lawyer-turned-playwright Christopher Demos-Brown is an impassioned and startling piece.

Kendra, a woman of colour (Kerry Washington, returning to the Broadway stage for the first time since 2009) attends a Miami police station at 4am on a June morning to find out whether they know anything about her missing 18-year-old son, an A-grade student who is on track to enter a military academy. But the junior white policeman stonewalls her; she will have to wait until his superior officer gets there. Then her estranged white husband arrives, an FBI officer who is treated with the respect she’s not been given. The investigating lieutenant is also black and a stand-off occurs between the two law enforcement officers.

In a brisk 80 minutes, Demos-Brown spins various themes and sympathies, all underpinned with the churning dread surrounding the fate of the missing teenager.

Director Kenny Leon’s exceptionally tense production maintains the constantly shifting dynamics between its four characters with ease and the production is driven by the impassioned distress and intensity of Washington’s performance.
Steven Pasquale is equally superb as her entitled, aggressive former husband, with Jeremy Jordan and Eugene Lee offering compassionate yet edgy portraits of the two police officers.

The heavy rainfall, on the exterior of Derek McLane’s police station set, adds to the intensity of a play that is all too plausible.

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Kerry Washington is terrific in a gripping examination of US racial politics in relationships and policing