“American Son” is not for the faint of heart. Written by Christopher Demos-Brown and directed by Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre’s artistic director Tim Rhoze, “American Son” climbs the emotional ladder steadily until all that is left on stage is a narrowing spotlight highlighting a world of eternal grief. Before that moment, however, we are presented with a mom anxiously awaiting word on the whereabouts of her teenage son. Pacing the floor of the police station, Kendra, an African American professor, is in the waiting room from hell with information filtering down from an impersonal bureaucracy. Soon to enter the scene is her estranged husband, a white FBI agent concerned about their son but also sympathetic to the officers on hand.
Playing the father is Martin Andrews who prowls the stage with a barely constrained sense of judgmental anger. A force, he has coached and guided his biracial son Jamal through one of Miami’s most exclusive high schools and is proud of his selection into West Point. He also struggles with calling his son Jamal (he prefers “Jay”) and cannot understand why he has begun seeking out friendships with African Americans outside his narrow world. Especially triggering to Jamal’s dad is a new bumper sticker, placed prominently on Jamal’s slightly used Lexus, advocating the “shooting” (with a camera) of all police officers the moment they pull someone over.
With a much better understanding of Jamal is his mother Kendra (Alexandria Moorman). Moorman puts in a powerful and sincere performance showing the full emotional range of motherhood. This is evident from the opening scene which features her leaving frantic voicemails on her son’s phone. The first is pure anger; “I have texted and call you several times, where are you?” The next apologetic and full of worry. These alternating emotions spill over in pure anger toward the low-level flunky assigned to give only the most superficial pieces of information (“there was an incident involving your son’s vehicle”) as well as her badge-clad ex-husband (who almost immediately is granted a more comprehensive view of what happened). Throughout the long wait, the two parents go around and around battling what it means for their son to be African American.
One issue pressed throughout this play is the idea of entitlement. Who in America gets to be provocative? And which teenagers are allowed to become sullen and to act out? Clearly the answer is not African Americans who exist with practically no margin of error. In America, not all sons are treated equally.
Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre in the Noyes Cultural Art Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, (847)866-5914, $30, fjtheatre.com. Through November 13.