How appropriate is “Appropriate,” the current drama at the Playhouse? Yes, it deals with the ever-popular theme of the dysfunctional family. But, alas, “Appropriate” never matches up to the great plays of the past which fall into this genre. With Shepard’s “Buried Child,” Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”—all classics of the genre–what fresh insight does playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins offer this time around?
No new insight, but startling stage effects are what “Appropriate” offers. The play opens with absolute darkness and a weird whistling sound. In this uncomfortable opening, which seems endless, one wonders whether the entire drama will be offered in the pitch dark.
But the stage lights up, and the familiar drama begins. Borrowing from similar plays of the past, the children have returned to their decrepit Arkansas plantation, their father having recently died, to divide up the estate. And the battle is on.
Unfortunately, there is no variation to the pace or intensity. Actor Betsy Aidem, in the lead as Toni, the eldest child, comes on screaming and never lets up for the next two hours. In short, there is no effective build-up. The plot deals with slight touches of racism, anti-Semitism, sexual mores, pornography, new age practices, and family tragedies—none of which is effectively explored.
Granted, this time around, there is the hard-working cast which does its best with the endless material. But the stage effects come off better than any other aspect of the show. In fact, the closing which the playwright wrote into the script (not to be revealed here) is striking and original.
What puzzles this reviewer, who found herself, fidgeting, checking her watch, and longing for the close, is why this play won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play. Let’s close by saying that tastes vary, both among playgoers and professionals. Each to his own.