Sunday, October 11, 2015

One Last Chance To See The Excellent SpeakEasy Production of "Appropriate" - Today at 3:00 at Boston Center for the Arts

I was hoping to get this review to my readers before now, but I have been traveling and ran into connectivity issues with my temperamental computer.  So, be aware that today is the last opportunity to see the remarkable SpeakEasy production of "Appropriate" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  you may know his name from another acclaimed work, "An Octoroon," which will be presented to Boston audiences later this year by Company One and ArtsEmerson.

"Appropriate" is a deeply troubling account of a spectacularly dysfunctional family that have gathered to take care of the decaying hulk of a home that has been left empty by the death of their father/grandfather.  What they find in the course of cleaning up the place raises questions about who this man was. Was he a sadistic racist, or are the photographs that seem to be damning merely circumstantial evidence that can be explained away to preserve the belief that this had been a decent man and pater familias?

When I say that this is a dysfunctional family, think "August: Osage County" dysfunctional.  Think Chekov.  Think of the Karamazovs - or the Kardashians! The three siblings siblings are Toni, fighting for custody of her teenage son and recovering from having been their father's primary care giver in the home town in Arkansas.  Bo is the brother who went off and became successful in business, who simply wants to sell the house and wash his hands of the whole affair.  Black sheep Franz returns to the nest to try to claim his share of whatever profits can be realized from selling the property and the effects left behind. The other players in this drama are Bo's wife, Rachel, and their children Cassidy and Aisley, and Franz's Moon Child girlfriend, River.

Mr. Jenkins is known for taking great risks in addressing issues of racism in ways that are aggressive, politically incorrect and which reach out and grab the audience by the throat. In this case, he is telling  a biblical tale of the sins of the fathers being visited - even unto the third and fourth generation. The discovery of a photo album of lynched and mutilated Negroes is the catalyst for all hell to break loose. Each family member has a unique idea of what should be done with the embarrassing discovery.  In the course of figuring out what to do, each character's flaws and struggles and insecurities are exposed and magnified.

The writing is brilliant, as I have come to expect from this daring young playwright.  The acting, under the inspired direction of M. Bevin O'Gara, is equally impressive.  This is a wonderful ensemble piece.  Ms. O'Gara wrings from each actor every possible drop of blood, sweat and tears as together they act out this cautionary tale.

They are:

  • Bryan T. Donovan as Bo
  • Katie Elinoff as Cassidy
  • Tamara Hickey as Rachael
  • Melinda Lopez as Toni
  • Brendan O'Brien as Ainsley
  • Alex Pollock as Franz
  • Eliott Purcell as Rhys
  • Ashley Risten as River
Among this uniformly excellent cast, the performances of Ms. Lopez and Mr. Pollock stand out as the most gripping and compelling.

Melinda Lopez as Toni
Bryan T. Donovan as Bo
Alex Pollock as Franz
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through October 11, 2015

The cast are aided in their work by a set that is eye-opening in its complexity and decrepitude.  Cristina Todesco has outdone herself in designing this set.  Just as each character has an arc that shows them falling apart, the set has its own parallel arc.  It remind me in some ways of the set used at the A.R.T. for "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess."  That set was the rotting hulk of a slave ship, inside which the story was told.  In the case of "Appropriate," the story is told inside the rotting hulk of an Antebellum home. Lighting is by Wen-Ling Liao, Costumes by Tyler Kinney, Sound by Arshan Gailus, and impressive Fight Choreography by Angie Jepson

Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins is ambitious in attacking multiple levels of issues: the nature of what constitutes a family, family heritage, residual guilt over ancestors' sins, selective perception and the difficulty of processing and accepting new data that forces us to re-examine previously held beliefs, the lingering legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

These are issues that must be faced.  This is a play that must be seen. I hope you can change your plans for today and make your way to the BCA for this afternoon's final performance.



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