‘American Son’ puts focus on racial divides


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What could be worse than a mother’s anguish and concern when her 18-year=old son does not return at night, and her motherly instinct sounds her intrinsic alarm for his safety?

“American Son,” the current production at The Unicorn Theatre opens up so many topics that need and deserve open discussions for understanding pain and inequality on so many levels. First is the fear black mothers (and even fathers) have for their teenage or early 20-somethings when they encounter police. As with many situations, females are not treated with equal respect in a male-dominated society.

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Then there are the situations of a mixed marriage and a child of those parents. Throw in the expectations of a person of color in an all-white, upper-class private school. Add to that, two parents approaching their missing child from their different perspectives and upbringings. Even these situations do encompass the multitude of different perspectives among the cast who bring forth so much more than simple words on a printed page. But, all in all, “American Son” illustrates the racial divide and just a few of its tentacles.

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Four talented actors under the direction of Damron Russel Armstrong tackled the dramatic piece and opened the door to so many unacceptable situations in a modern society with cell phones, computers, the internet, and social media. Even though the story puts the audience inside a police station in the current time, the basics of the story could be anytime before the advent of modern technology. The fears of parents, the treatment of women as opposed to men, and the ugliness of racism allows the actors to wring all the drama from the piece while developing their individual characters.

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Get ready to be astounded by Teisha M. Bankston, the frantic mother seeking answers about her son. She barely leaves the stage in the 85-minute play (with no intermission). She commands the stage from beginning to end with three strong support by the talented cast members.

Be prepared for drama at its highest. The show moves fast and does not give the audience a chance to relax. The plot continues to present situations that illustrate the lack of progress in matters concerning race.

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The cast for “American Son” is: Teisha M. Bankston as Kendra Ellis-Connor, Brian Paulette as Scott Connor, Bob Linebarger as Officer Paul Larkin, Lewis J Morrow as Lieutenant John Stokes.

The only distraction was that on opening night, the sound for the first 10-15 minutes was too loud and shrill. Sitting on the front row, I felt like someone was yelling in my ear. That technical glitch will be corrected for the remainder of the performances.

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The production team is led by Damron Russel Armstrong, director. His team includes: Tanya Brown, stage manager; Kelli Harrod, scenic design; Ashley Champion, scenic painter; Nicole Jaja, lighting design; Henry Rose Wager, master electrician; David Kiehl, sound design; Gretchen Halle, costume design; Eric Palmquist, props design; Michelle Tyrene Johnson, dramaturg; Logan Black, fight choreographer; Adam F. Fulmer, production assistant; Ashley Champion, soundboard operator.

“American Son” runs at The Unicorn Theatre through March 29. Performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays qualify for the pay-what=you=can special offer through the box office. See The Unicorn Theatre website for tickets, prices, and special offers.

Special note from The Unicorn:

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Here at Unicorn Theatre we are committed to the health and safety of our audiences, artists, and staff. While the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus is low in Kansas City, we are taking extra care to ensure that our theatre is clean and safe. We are increasing the frequency of our cleaning service, disinfecting high touch areas daily, and disinfecting seats in our theaters after every performance. We encourage everyone to follow best hygiene practices like hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and other common-sense safety measures.

Additionally, if you are not feeling well or experiencing flu-like symptoms, we encourage you to stay home and contact the Box Office to reschedule your tickets. We will waive all fees and are happy to exchange your tickets for a time when you are feeling better.

For more information, please contact our Box Office at (816) 531-7529, x10

Tags: Unicorn Theatre, “American Son” review, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment.


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