“how to make an American Son” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – July 10, 2022


Arizona Theatre Company, Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Arizona Theatre Company consistently presents the finest theater in exemplary Phoenix productions until its final show of the 2021/22 season.  The world premiere of a lethargic and weakly written new play by ATC’s artistic associate, christopher oscar pena, “how to make an American Son,” disappoints because so many basic missteps occur throughout the piece.

The short play drags dreadfully with tiresome repetition as it tries to craft a valid message about generational differences in reactions to identical situations.  The play focuses on how a Honduran immigrant and dominate father has built a successful cleaning business that spoils his American-born son.

While the play’s message is effective, it is blundered and tedious.  It is without well-developed characters and is riddled with unnecessary prophesizing.  These characters must grow, change, and evolve as they learn things about each other.  The play must also introduce some unexpected plot twists to make it more interesting.

The father, Mando, is reverential to his bigoted, Caucasian boss, Richard, who also has a son, Sean. Mando’s son, 16-year-old Orlando, is a spendthrift who buys expensive luxuries but doesn’t want to work for them.  Mando’s general manager, Mercedes, bows and scrapes to her boss to gain success and brings a relative, Rafael, to help with janitorial duties.  Although no surprise, Orlando is gay and he attempts to seduce both Rafael and Sean.

The characters are one-dimensional cliches who never change.  Orlando’s mother is referenced but never appears.  Based on discussions between Mando and Orlando, she appears to have felt differently than her husband about raising their son so she would be an interesting addition to the script.  The son shouts at his father late in the play suggesting his success is due to kowtowing to his boss.  This is another plot tidbit that is also clear from early in the play.

Enough about the troubled play.  The production is directed slowly and drably by Kimberly Senior who never lets the play catch fire to involve or move the audience.  Gabriel Mann doesn’t shade Mando and Francisco Javier Gonzalez is far too old to play Orlando plus he is stuck with a character that never develops until his awkward outburst late in the story.  Cristela Alonzo does her best with the stereotypical Mercedes as does Eddie Boroevich with Richard.  Alexander Flores brings a bit of emotional sincerity to Rafael.

“how to make an American Son” plays in the tiny Stage West theater and even though a Covid- plagued cast delayed the opening by a week, the show will not be extended.  This is probably a good decision since the play is so far from a finished work. Back to the drawing board for “how to make an American Son” which runs until July 17.  Order tickets online at www.atc.org. or call 1-833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: C