When: Through Dec. 8
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 871-3000; www.victorygardens.org
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Despite its mannerly title, “Appropriate,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s new play is a purposeful exercise in unmannerliness. And of course no unit of human civilization can be more unmannerly and overtly dysfunctional than the family.
Stylistically, Jacobs-Jenkins’ play is pure Southern fried neo-gothic Americana. And it deals with all the familiar themes of racism, anti-Semitism, sibling rivalry and inheritance (whether in the form of unsavory ghosts or elusive cash).
A co-world premiere by the Actors Theatre of Louisville and Victory Gardens Theater (where it is now playing), “Appropriate,” directed by Gary Griffin, provides an ensemble of top-of-their-game actors the opportunity to indulge in sink-your-teeth-into-this sorts of encounters that can get the juices flowing. But while some of it is funny, most of it is heavy-handed vitriol that goes on far too long and says just about everything we already know about prejudice and denial.
And so we have the Lafayettes. They have returned to the shabby family plantation in swampy southeast Arkansas after the death of the patriarch — a man who was once a power-broker in Washington, D.C., but spent the last 20 years of his life in a bipolar state, hoarding a houseful of junk and racking up a half million dollars in caretaking costs. Daddy may or may not have been living with the ghosts of the most extreme, Klan-connected racism. And he may or may not be largely responsible for his three variously messed up adult children.
That trio includes: Toni (the operatic Kirsten Fitzgerald), recently divorced and the mother of a teenage son, Rhys (Alex Stage) who has his own set of problems; Toni’s brother, Bo (Keith Kupferer), a lawyer married to Rachael (Cheryl Graeff), who lives in New York with his Jewish wife and their kids — 14-year-old Cassidy (Jennifer Baker), and her younger brother, Ainsley (Theo Moss will alternate with Mark Page); and Toni’s youngest, long-estranged brother, Franz (Stef Tovar), a rehabbed addict and former sex offender now engaged to River (Leah Karpel), a well-off 23-year-old who spouts all sorts of West Coast psycho-babble.
As the resentments pile up, the worth of the property declines, and the personalities erupt, the centerpiece of the play becomes an album full of hideous photographs of lynchings. Is it proof of the family’s darkest and most damaging secrets? And how much should the grandkids, who know both more and less than they should via the Internet, be told?
The actors are exceptional. The play, which is too long, ends far too many times, and features the third “semi-collapsible” house in a season or so, hyperventilates more than it enlightens.