Lots of Screaming in Westport Playhouse’s “Appropriate”
It is yet another journey down dysfunction junction for theatregoers attending “Appropriate”, the new and very loud family drama by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins currently on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse. The playwright, obviously inspired by the works of Eugene O’Neill and August Wilson, has concocted a poor cousin to Tracy Letts’ more recent “August: Osage County”. All comparisons to that superior Pulitzer Prize winner, however, end there.
A dilapidated plantation home in contemporary Arkansas sits on grounds that include two cemeteries and an algae-covered lake. It is here that family members have gathered to sell off the home and its contents. Black sheep brother Frank (Shawn Fagan) arrives on the scene after a ten-year absence with his much younger girlfriend, a free-spirit and New Ager called River (Anna Crivelli). His siblings, bitter divorced sister, Toni (Betsy Aidem) and older brother, Bo (David Aaron Baker), barely have time to go over past slights and disagreements before they discover some ugly secrets about their dead father.
Nearly three hours and three acts in length, “Appropriate” covers a lot of ground with numerous issues populating the busy script including (but not limited to): anti-Semitism, statutory rape, alcoholism, pedophilia, unplanned pregnancy and racism. The play, under the fervent direction of David Kennedy, begins at a fever pitch and seldom takes a break with long, meandering monologues and several screaming matches that eventually climax in a rather unconvincing stage fight involving most of the cast members. Both Ms. Aidem and Mr. Baker have impressive past stage credits, but it must be said that none of the actors here distinguish themselves.
Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins begins the play intriguingly and with promise, but it soon dissolves into a series of missed opportunities and false endings. It could have been a provocative and timely look at past race relations haunting the present. Instead, the play settles for dreary domestic drama with regrets, recriminations and crocodile tears all thrown into a non-stop boiling gumbo; a kitchen sink drama at its most overwrought.
The mansion setting by Andrew Boyce is very impressive, but Fitz Patton’s insistent sound design of deafening cicadas between every scene is a playwright’s pretentious commentary on this family that only serves to annoy listeners. Also, the play’s final, silly coda which shows the house gradually getting worse over time with broken windows and flying objects, reminded me of the final moments of “Blithe Spirit”. If only “Appropriate” were anywhere near as enjoyable as that Coward classic.
“Appropriate” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through September 2. For tickets, call the theatre box office at 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org.