While thousands of African-American boys have heard “the talk” from their parents about how to behave when stopped by the police, how many parents have thought about how they would handle another talk — the one they might have with the police if their son should go missing? In American Son, the Christopher Demos-Brown play that Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) will present from April 7-24, this tense situation gets a thorough exploration in real-time.
When Kendra Ellis-Connor (Tracey A. Leigh) walks into a Miami police station well after midnight, she’s already worried about her son. A psychologist with a PhD who grew up in the projects, Kendra knows that her child, who has attended an elite private school and for whom she has high expectations, dresses in a way that might mislead a police officer into thinking that he’s a gang member. The young white officer staffing the desk, Paul Larkin (Toby Tropper), means well but can’t keep from offending Kendra by misnaming her son and asking her questions that indicate he’s steeped in unconscious racial bias. It doesn’t help that when her estranged husband, Scott Connor (Jamison Jones), arrives, Larkin treats him with a different level of respect. Scott is white and an FBI agent to boot, which puts Larkin into a subservient rather than a dominant mode.
Working on this play for several years, thanks to pandemic delays, has offered director Jonathan Fox and his cast — which also includes Alex Morris as Lieutenant John Stokes — an extraordinary opportunity. When they began rehearsals in March, they found places in the script that seemed dated because they were written before the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Fox contacted playwright Demos-Brown, and he agreed to make changes to the script in time for this production. ETC is thrilled to participate in bringing forward this refreshed version of American Son and has scheduled several activities around the show designed to make it the point of departure for conversations about social justice in our community.
For tickets and information, call the box office at (805) 965-5400 or visit etcsb.org.