Interview with American Son star Eugene Lee
If you prefer your dramas hard-hitting and impactful, then look no further than the current Broadway premiere of American Son, written by Christopher Demos-Brown and directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon, which continues its limited run at the Booth Theatre through to January 27, 2019.
The action takes place in a police station in Miami, Florida, in the middle of the night and as the rain pours outside, a distraught mother (played by Golden Globe & Emmy Award nominee Kerry Washington) waits in all-consuming distress for news on her missing teenage son. Demos-Brown's thriller is a hotly topical piece of theatre, ripped straight from the headlines of police brutality and #BlackLivesMatter that continue to sweep this divided country. It is a 90-minute onslaught of emotions that sadly might also be described as a documentary in our current climate and a capable cast of four endure the psychological hardships of performing such a play eight times a week to deliver its important message to those open to receive it.
Alongside Ms. Washington (as Kendra Ellis-Connor), are Drama Desk nominee Steven Pasquale (as Scott Connor), Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan (as Officer Paul Larkin), and Eugene Lee (as Lieutenant John Stokes). Mr. Lee is a veteran of both stage and screen, as well as a playwright, performing in some of the most prestigious theatres across the country, from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Boston’s Huntington Theatre, and the Public Theater in NYC, among many others. He also appeared in the 2004 Broadway premiere of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean and in such television shows as “The Women of Brewster Place” opposite Oprah Winfrey, “Dallas,” “Good Times,” “The White Shadow,” and “The District”. Over the years, he has worked closely with the Negro Theatre Ensemble and is currently the Artist in Residence and Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwright’s Conference at Texas State University.
We recently had the opportunity to get Mr. Lee's thoughts on the importance of this unforgiving and salient production...
What first attracted you to the project and/or the role of Lieutenant John Stokes?
Reading the script. It’s the truth.
Do you personally know anyone who works for the police that helped you form the character? Or what were some of your influences?
I have known people, very close friends, who worked in law enforcement who have all impacted what I know about what the job demands of an individual and I’ve played more than a handful of cops over the years.
There are some particularly loaded exchanges between Stokes and Kerry Washington’s character of Kendra Ellis-Connor. Can you tell us a little bit about the intricacies of those exchanges and the importance of both characters being African-American?
Two Black people talking from two different and legitimate American perspectives.
With a play of such dramatically high emotional stakes, how do you and the rest of the cast maintain a balance and nurture camaraderie backstage?
The play is emotionally taxing. Fortunately, it’s only ninety minutes. But we all kinda know and feel like before every show, there’s someone out there who needs what we’re bringing so this company is tirelessly inspired by the export of this play.
In what ways do you personally believe a Broadway play can influence or impact a movement such as #BlackLivesMatter?
A Broadway play like this that walks 360 around an issue honestly and truthfully can make an impact on the lives of any one who experiences it. Every audience member comes to such a play with their own truth, their own perspective and experience, but they leave with more than they came with, when they gain new insight into someone else’s truth and experience and people don’t change until they get new information. And in an ideal world, they won’t keep it to themselves but share.
American Son Tickets are available now for performances through to January 27, 2019.
(Header photo by Sophy Holland)