ETC’s American Son 

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 12, 2022
Social issues and intricate relationships are explored in American Son as a bi-racial couple awaits news of their son in a police station (photo by Zach Mendez)

After two false starts forced by the pandemic, ETC is finally bringing American Son to the New Vic Theatre for a mid-April run. The nail-biting drama takes place in real-time in the waiting room of a Miami police station where the parents of a bi-racial African American teenager anxiously await news about their son, who may have been involved in a police traffic stop. 

In the two intervening years since ETC had to postpone the show, of course, America and the world have undergone some radical awakenings in the area of racial justice via the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the massive Black Lives Matter protests that ensued. ETC artistic director Jonathan Fox, who is helming the production, maintained that those events haven’t undercut the play’s impact but instead only made the production more poignant. 

“Now we are coming in from the perspective that [racial issues] are so much more present in our lives, and we’re much more aware even of language,” Fox said. “A lot of us are grappling with how much we have incorporated racial attitudes and how does that play out in our lives, which only heightens the effect. The play was a vehicle for examining the issues that were primary in our minds two years ago, and the relevance and the need for that discussion hasn’t gone away.”

Fox was even able to engage the author in updating some of the content as the work is meant to be set in the present moment. There’s a new reference to the movement to defund the police, for example, and the tone also needed to acknowledge what happened in 2020. “He did some rewrites based on our suggestions and made some recommendations to us, and then Zoomed in with us so we could hear how they sounded – which was pretty exciting,” Fox said. 

To be sure, though, American Son is also a relationship drama between the estranged husband and wife, and an edge-of-your-seat thriller, as we don’t find out what happened to the teenager until the play’s final moments. “It’s very much about a marriage that has fallen apart and how the racial issues inform the marriage,” Fox said. “There’s a lot of dramatic tension and even some comic relief.” Relief as well in finally being able to have all the actors on stage to bring American Son to Santa Barbara.

American Son plays April 7-24 at The New Vic, 33 West Victoria Street. Call (805) 965-5400 or visit


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