By Eugene Paul
years ago my neighbor called me and asked me if I would accompany her to the
police station. It was late, dark, she was alone, a single mom raising her two
sons. One of them was in some kind of trouble. Of course I went with her.
When she approached the officer at his desk I stayed a few paces back to give
her her privacy. He ignored her. And suddenly, I saw why I was there. I was
white. I stepped up beside her. Attention was paid. We had never been in such
a situation before. The whole issue of race roared into my head. I was quaking,
thinking of the quiet agony this proud, proud lady suffered to call me. How
would this affect our friendship?
Christopher Demos-Brown grabs this all too American issue by the throat and
never lets go. We are in a waiting room in Miami at curtain rise. It’s a
police station. It’s 4 a.m. Utterly still Kendra (luminous star Kerry
Washington) has been waiting for hours for information about her missing son.
Officer Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) has been desultory to say the least, and
condescending as only a cop can be who’s seen too many black mothers worried
about their kids, even if this one is smart and challenging and really kind of
hot even though she is definitely getting on his nerves.
he is half relieved and half puzzled when a high ranking FBI officer comes by
to assess the situation. He manages to drop a few less than complimentary
adjectives about these blacks when the officer walks away from him and stands
beside the black woman. It’s Scott (Stephen Pasquale), her husband. Her white
husband. Officer Larkin’s “Oh, shit” moment. Now, more information comes out.
None of it good. Their teen age son, Jamal, has been driving his father’s Lexus
around town with two other black teen agers, the only blacks in their private
school of four hundred. How do you think the kids feel?
then you ask how does her estranged husband feel? First off, why would he,
Scott, even leave Kendra? Oh, sure, the other woman but do you really buy
that? And yes, their teen age son is acting out but if he is acting out is
it because the father he idolizes has rejected him? And his mother? Because
Demos-Brown has us ping- ponging with differing viewpoints , biting questions,
which, of course, we react to as given us by our fine cast. But not until we
get a real blast from superb Eugene Lee as Lieutenant Stokes do we realize that
they’ve been acting, hard, Washington, Pasquale and Jordan, giving their
conscious all in their performances. Lee, however, as the station commander
taking hold of the entire situation is bracingly real as REAL, a blinding
realization and a lift to thriller proportions for the play.
director Kenny Leon, full of spirit and know-how, the go to guy for getting the
most out of contemporary black plays in the latest idiomatic nuances, here
focuses on his leading lady. Without her starriness the play wouldn’t be here
on Broadway. He has wooed her into giving a performance beyond anything she has
ever done but cannot convince us she’s ever had a son, let alone a Jamal, a sea
of raw, mixed up emotions pushed beyond limits by racial ugliness. Her beauty,
her success, her security undercut her character, undercut the play. Her Kendra
is not the rage of flame the play aspires to. Leon knows it and brings the
brutal final curtain down swiftly, the smart thing to do.
designer Derek McLane”s Old Miami updated police station is surprisingly just
right, Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting couldn’t be better and Peter Fitzgerald’s
design of a Florida summer storm makes us uncomfortable in the best way in this
outstanding physical production. Playwright Demos-Brown is being given a
the Booth Theatre, 225 West 45th Street. Tickets: $59-$250.
212-239-6200. 90 min. Thru Jan 27, 2019.