Area theaters are opening again and I happily attended two performances on the weekend of Nov. 6-7 — very different, but both engaging: “American Son” by Christopher Demos-Brown at Curious Theatre in Denver and “Winter Wonderettes” by Roger Bean at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center.
“American Son,” by trial lawyer/playwright Demos-Brown, played on Broadway, with Kerry Washington as the mother. It's set in the could-be-in-any-county waiting room at the Dade County, Florida, Courthouse, with chairs for those who need to wait for their time in court, an American flag, county insignia in a frame, a clock, harsh lighting — and space to pace. The stage set's blandness sets off the tense story well.
“It is a play that gives us a glimpse into the fears and concerns that almost every parent of a Black male child in this country faces on a regular basis, especially in interactions with police,” wrote director Jada Suzanne Dixon, who also performs the role of Kendra Ellis-Connor, a Black mother, whose son is missing as lights go up on the Curious stage. (He's a mild-mannered kid who once burst into tears over “Puff the Magic Dragon,” she says.)
“There's been an incident,” says tense young white Officer Paul Larkin (Sean Scrutchins), in reply to her questioning. He stalls about more information, while she presses, growing increasingly frantic over her son's whereabouts.
Her white husband, Scott (Josh Robinson), an FBI agent, arrives — sputtering and aggressive — “He's going to West Point, went to private schools — I won't put up with him regressing,” Scott says. “Obviously something happened.” (We learn that Scott has walked out on mother and son recently.)
“He was driving around with two other black males in the car,” the officer tells him — which he hadn't told the mother.
What transpires is predictable, but the tension is with us until the end of this well-crafted piece.
Abner Genece, forceful as Lt. John Stokes, is the fourth character, who enters the one-act late.
“American Son” keeps the audience engaged and the cast is strong. Chip Walton, Curious founder, said he and Dixon had both seen the play in New York and compared notes, agreeing that it was a good fit for Curious.
Given the skills of the cast, crew and director involved, (all member of Actors Equity) — I'd hope to see some exploration of material that was not quite so predictably “a good fit” for Curious. They have created works that stretched talents further afield in the past.
“American Son” plays through Dec. 11 at Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., Denver, curioustheatre.org.
“Winter Wonderettes” finds this singing group of young women, whom we have met before at Town Hall, six years later in Springfield, performing at the Harper's Hardware Holiday Party ... Bob Wells directed the well-blended voices of Missy (Rebekah Ortiz) Cindy Lou (Abby McInerney), Suzy (Cara Lippitt) and Betty Jean (Caitlin Hilzer) into a program of seasonal music, mostly familiar, with live accompaniment (always a plus) by Donna Kolpan Debreceni on the keyboard; Scott Alan Smith on bass and Larry Ziehl on percussion.
The smooth and lively singers, clad in pastel velvet dresses with a bit of lace trim, were choreographed by Kelly Kates, which adds an extra professional polish to the show, in addition to Wells' skilled direction of well-blended voices.
Many selections are warmly familiar, starting with “A Marshmallow World,” and including the traditional “O Tannenbaum” and “Santa Baby” but also include some we may not have heard, like “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo!”
I love the idea of children being included in holiday entertainment outings and the elementary-age kids seated in front of me seemed thoroughly engaged, as well as obviously pleased with wearing party dresses. This is a good choice for younger family members, though probably not the teeny folks, who might prefer Frosty or Santa ...
The cheery set with tree and fireplace adds to the atmosphere.
“Winter Wonderettes” plays through Dec. 26 and alternates with “Plaid Tidings,” directed by Nick Sugar, which runs through Jan. 2. A great contrast appears in late January with “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by Bob Wells. (Jan. 28 to March 6.) townhallartscenter.org, or 303-794-2787.
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