Appropriate

 

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkinsvictory gardens theater

Directed by Gary Griffin

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago

Powerful family drama mixes family feuds with sordid family history

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is an African-American playwright who loves to be provocative and stun audiences with outlandish works. But here in Appropriate, now playing at Victory Gardens Theater, he has written about a most dysfunctional white family gathered to liquidate the estate of their recently departed patriarch. Jacobs-Jenkins demonstrates his talents by creating fully flashed-out characters with language that is both  bitingly bitter and razor-sharp. Jacobs-Jenkins is an emerging major talent who bravely doesn’t hesitate to write about a white family that has a most racist past that none of the family will recognize.

victory gardens theater

victory gardens theater

On a junk-stunned living room complete with a staircase (set design by Yu Shibigaki), we meet the oldest daughter, Toni (Kirsten Fitzgerald) as she tries to arrange all the clutter for an estate sale. Quickly, a debate ensues with Bo, her younger brother (Keith Kupferer) as who is responsible for the details of the estate sale. Old wounds quickly emeege as Toni from Atlanta had to make many trips to this Arkansas house to see that proper care was given to their father during his reclining years while Bo was living in New York City. After their mother died when the children were young, Toni became the mother figure. Add Franz (Frank) (Stef Tovar), the youngest sibling with a sordid past that includes child molestation and you have an extreme dysfunctional family. Hints of August Osage County abound here yet  Jacobs-Jenkins takes their past history to a new and frightening level.

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During the family squabbles that abound here, we learn that daddy was a Southerner in the sordid history that included bigotry and racism. Bo’s wife Rachel (Cheryl Graeff) first discovered daddy’s antisemitism that seemed to be disregarded by the children who were so consumed with their own traumas and foibles that  daddy’s peculiarities were easily dismissed. But while cleaning all the junk from the house and with the unexpected arrival of Franz, both old wounds and new discoveries threaten all the family relationships.

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Among the many layers presented here are the mufti-generational views. The biter Toni’s resentment of Bo and Franz and the appeasing nature of Bo with the New Age personal resurrection of Franz, with the help of his hippie-inspired girlfriend River (Leah Karpel) and each generation has their take on the family history. Each seeks to know the family secrets but they are all paralyzed when revelations of lynching and Klan activities emerge.  Denial becomes fodder for feuds and greed over comes truth.

The arguments escalate into all-out fighting that finds each member of the clan literally at each others throats. Appropriate contains several long attacking then defensive speeches as each sibling presents their point of view. Kirsten Fitzgerald leads the terrific cast with her outstanding performance. She commands her scenes with a combination of razor-sharp bitterness and stealth comic timing.  Keith Kupferer and Stef Tovar were outstanding as was Cheryl Graeff.

victory gardens theater

The drama escalates into much more than a family feud as  the haunting family history emerges that is denied by everyone except as a means of financial reward.  Implied here is the cavalier notion modern white folks have to their family’s immoral past. But since we witness their extreme dysfunctional behavior, they are too caught up in the traps of their recent past to note the evil in their family history.

Appropriate is a riveting, explosive drama that is rich in strongly developed characters. It contains smart and stinging dialogue that escalates into mayhem. It is a journey worth taking.  It is a powerful work that exposes the ugly history that many families have but deny. I look forward to more plays from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 17, 2013

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Appropriate page at theatreinchicago.com

At Victory Gardene Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773.871.3000, http://victorygardens.org, tickets $30 – $60,  Tuesday – Saturday, 7:30pm, Saturday, 4pm, Sunday, 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through December 8, 2013

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