Sunday, January 18, 2009

"No, Not My Son" closes

I attended a play last night at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, “No, Not My Son,” written by Rodney James, and directed by Achebe Hoskins and Ronnie Prosser. The play is set in the '60s-'70s at the time when black men returning from combat duty in the Vietnam War were returning addicted to heroin. The story opens with an overture sung by Watt (Rodney James), followed by narrator, Otis “The Barber,” who offers a running commentary throughout the play.

"Not My Son" starts at the end, a warrior returns from duty overseas, the second tour of duty for this family—the father served during WW2, the son, Preston Thomas, Vietnam. Hattie Mae Thomas, mother, is in denial about her son’s addiction even after she notices her heart medication money missing. Preston’s sister Pearl Thomas (actress Valerie Evans), is more skeptical and tries to get her brother to let the family help, but he doesn't believe he has a problem...taking drugs allows him to escape the combat memories that haunt him.

The ending is not a surprise, nor are the events that lead to the protagonist's untimely and the play's sad conclusion. "Not My Son,” shows how the trauma connected to war lasts long after the battle weary return home, the new front line the urban communities they left behind, the new causalities the children these men father, the mothers and sisters whose hearts they break.

Hattie Mae Thomas (actress Aiyesha Earls) knows her son is on drugs, but she can’t face him with this truth because she is so happy he is home once again. She says she could barely stand it when her son, her only son was drafted. I think, as her only son, he would be exempt. The military didn’t draft only sons’ post-WW2, so Preston would have had to volunteer.

Okay, so let’s say he volunteered like so many kids are volunteering today for the war in Iraq. Like Preston (actor John Casselberry), these youth don’t have many options: either die on the streets in the neighborhood or the streets in Iraq, or for Preston, the killing fields in Vietnam.

The trauma connected to urban warfare or its military equivalent is explored in “No! Not My Son!” Otis puts it well when he speaks of the photos on his shop wall of kids’ first cuts and then later seeing these same kids’ photos on obituaries.

The play raises important questions, such as, how can a family help a family member who won't self-disclose? Hattie Mae isn't the only mother with a son on drugs in this play. Skeeter's mom prays for him and eventually her prayers are answered. Are these mothers too patient? Should they do like the parents did for their son who was using in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" put him out, and not let him back in, as his father suggests, because when his mother let's him in for a meal, he steals from his parents again?

What is the answer?

What does one do when the only way one's child can face each day is through a narcotic haze, the reality of his deeds for the sake of national security too horrific to face sober? Addicts, like Preston, live for the next high. Any soul searching or guilt is drowned in the bliss associated with the hit.

Although I heard scattered laughter in the audience, the themes explored are not funny and the drunken sage, actor, Rodney James' "Watt’s" comments are not as funny as they are true. What is the difference between a drunk and an addict, except legality? Even the comic relief addict Skeeter (actor Rafael Wishon) provides is a pitiful extremist view of the lengths an addict will go to score.

The Bay Area Performing Arts Collective has two shows scheduled for next month, February 7 and 28. February 7 is a new play by Achebe Hoskins and February 28 is a re-staging of the very successful, “A Raisin in the Sun.” Visit


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