They didn’t watch the Broadway production of “American Son” together, but Jada Susan Dixon and Chip Walton had the same reaction, as each had seen a play about a different interracial couple that ends up following their “incident”. Waiting for the news of what happened to the son. The police are involved in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
“My first reaction was, ‘This is such a curious play’—because we do ripped-to-the-headlines type stuff. My second thought was, ‘What a great role for Jada,'” producers of Curious Theater Company Artistic director Walton said. “I didn’t even know Jada saw it, and she was like, ‘Have you seen it? Do you know about it?’ “
Dixon described sitting at the Booth Theater in New York, leaning towards her daughter, whom she had come to visit. “This is my role,” he whispered. “It’s a curious show.” And, starting Saturday night, it begins a four-week run at the Curious Theater Company, in the form of “American Son.”
On Broadway, Kerry Washington starred as Kendra Ellis-Connor, the closed heart of playwright Christopher Demos-Brown’s riveting, issue-driven drama. The show was a hot ticket in late 2018 and early 2019, thanks in no small measure to the sterling gifts from Washington’s casting and show director Kenny Lyons.
Dixon stepped into the role of center and – a first for the company – is also directing the production. It’s a great question but one Walton felt was right for the drama, the company, and Dixon. “Jada and I have an artistic kinship. There’s always been some common sense between us, there’s some collaborative kind of vibe going on. First and foremost, that’s what matters,” Walton said.
In mid-October, Dixon was named artistic producer. His contributions on and off stage over the years have added texture to some of Curious’s most important and vivid productions, especially but not exclusively involving black characters. Dixon played the roles of an associate or assistant director (“Skeleton Crew,” “Gloria,” and “Appropriate”) or an actor (“Detroit ’67,” “White Guy on the Bus,” “Marcus; or Secret of the Secret”). Lee. Sweet” and “In the Red and Brown Water”).
(She also did a mean nurse ratchet for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the Deerleaded Age Theater”, and will direct Arvada Center’s upcoming black box production “Stick Fly”).
His move towards directing and producing is a know-how professionally and creatively. “It’s the phrase that I live my life lately,” Dixon says. “It’s basically, ‘I want to live more in the breadth of my life, not just the length of my life.’ For me, artistically, I’m leaning in there. How do I do that)? Part of it comes from going, ‘Okay, hey, I’m getting a little older and roles for black female actors maybe a little bit So what else interests me? What else is exciting? What else could be that I love at the core of my existence? How do I keep it at the forefront?” Directing seemed like the even more perfect next step.
For our recent interview, we sat up in the lounge area of the Curious Theater, rehearsing sounds from the theatre.
“I’ve been in this building several times where I’m chatting about technology with the designers about Chip. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah. That’s a great question.’ I don’t know how to answer it. So, when opportunities presented themselves – as scared and worried as I was – I still said, ‘Yeah, I want to try. I want to explore.’ “
There is a question Walton has repeatedly insisted on that excites him. “How do we make sure that we’re also responsible for the story we’re telling and the place we’re presenting it?” Dixon said. “For Curious, that means we want to make sure we always keep our eye on diversity and equality and inclusion, on stage, backstage, in playwrights and in directors. I think we’re in the ‘American Sun’ But went around for a while and tried to be really thoughtful.
Even if you haven’t seen “American Son” on Broadway, you may have seen it on Netflix in its streaming incarnation with the Broadway cast and its director. A dissertation could be written about that taut, stuffy — and frustrating to this viewer — Emmy-nominated television version and the deep and intriguing difference between film, television, and theatre. (Neither Walton nor Dixon has seen the streamed version.)
Even in the afternoon rehearsal excerpts, it’s clear that Dixon, Walton & Co. will bring their nuances to these thorny, painful roles.
Curious cast good luck. Josh Robinson portrays Kendra’s estranged husband, Scott Connor. The play throws a shiny wrench in the works by making Connor an FBI agent. Sean Scrunchins is the young police officer, Paul Larkin, who is the center’s first point of contact in the early hours. In the screenplay, the quick transfer of their dialogue speaks as much about the loneliness of parental agony as it shows the sinister flaws of policing. As Police Lieutenant John Stokes, the Ebner genus comes to perpetuate any easy assumptions that might be shunned. The exchange between Stokes and Center could prove to be the most painful and the most powerful.
Sings “American Sun”. It scratches. It barely exposes the scaly mark. It is difficult to heal when the culture is constantly etched into the wound. There has been an increase in intelligent (and overdue) conversations among creatives about value, but there are also disadvantages to popular works that continue to portray black trauma – especially when the actual events that perpetuate the trauma seem to be Unabated. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in 2020 provide clear examples of that violent replay of systemic vulnerability. The “American son” walks in this stuffy space.
Demanding that is about Curious in many ways. “It is often very challenging to find a play that tackles an important issue and involves a certain level of humanity,” Walton said. “And this play has what I think is a very human story about two parents of a son, and an incredibly provocative story about race in the United States. In my opinion, It is neither didactic or didactic about an issue, nor is it sentimental or melodramatic in any way.”
Still, the potential emotional toll of provocative actions that wrestle with race on members of the audience is not lost on Dixon. When the topic came up in rehearsals, she said, she had the space — and the power — to address it. “Hey, guys, we have to be super considerate about the audience members who are going to watch this show who are black and brown. We don’t want to cause trauma again. So how do we take this into account? Can you keep it?” Dixon said.
The actor-director said, “I loved that I could bring it into the room, that we could communicate around it and that we could carry it in our pockets.” But that doesn’t mean running away with difficulty. “We still believe in provocative theater that challenges our audiences and leaves them talking outside the theater door.”
Subscribe to The Know, our weekly newsletter, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.