As Kerry Washington prepared for her starring role in American Son, she invited several friends and colleagues to join the producing team. Soon enough, Gabrielle Union-Wade, Shonda Rhimes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Dwyane Wade, and Steve Stoute were among those lending their support to this new Broadway play.
What got them on board? “I read it and was blown away,” says Gabrielle Union-Wade. “I called Kerry and said, ‘I have to do this. I want to be part of this transformative piece. THIS IS A CULTURE-CHANGING PLAY.’”
An edge-of-your-seat thriller about two parents seeking information about their child, American Son is certainly the kind of play that keeps us talking. “THE STORY IS AMAZING; it is so beautifully written,” says Shonda Rhimes, who recently created a video explaining five reasons everyone should see the show during its limited run at the Booth Theatre (the final performance is on January 27).
Along with the script by playwright Christopher Demos-Brown, Rhimes’s other reasons for seeing the play include Kerry Washington’s performance, Kenny Leon’s direction, and the fact that this particular story is being told on a Broadway stage.
For Jada Pinkett Smith, it matters that the play lets so many types of people speak their minds. “I was really drawn to the different perspectives and different realities,” she says. “I thought it was a fresh take, and I thought, ‘WOW, THIS IS A PLAY I WANT TO SEE!'”
Meanwhile, audience members may all have their own reasons to recommend the production. As Union-Wade notes, “It’s so many things, depending on your perspective. IT’S A SUSPENSE THRILLER. IT’S GRIPPING. IT’S COMPELLING. Dare I say there are even some funny moments.”
She adds, “It also about race and gender and the treatment of marginalized groups. It’s about the American family.”
Washington herself is drawn to the way families are portrayed in the show. Speaking about the interracial marriage at the center of the story, she says, “There is something about these two people loving each other and choosing to enter this adventure of raising a young black boy together that is unique to today. They’ve made a commitment to love. Not to just coexist. Not to just live in the same neighborhood and drink from the same water fountain. But to love and to parent together. That changes the story.”
Union-Wade sees a similar power. “It’s one of those pieces where everybody’s right and nobody’s wrong, and everybody’s wrong and nobody’s right,” she says. “You find yourself thinking, ‘I didn’t think I would find any redeeming qualities in this particular character, but damn if I’m not feeling for them.’”
All those layers create an undeniable impact: “You can experience a reality outside your own as if it’s your own experience,” says Pinkett Smith. “I know that when audiences come see this, it will be meaningful.”
Union-Wade adds, “American Son is entertaining in the way it reaches you. SOME ART IS MEANT NOT JUST TO MOVE US, BUT TO CHANGE US.”