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Theater Wed Nov 20 2013

Haunted by the Past: Appropriate Tells Family Secrets at Victory Gardens

Appropriate is one of those dysfunctional family dramas, but one filled with witty dialogue and some fine comic and dramatic performances. Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Gary Griffin, Appropriate is a co-world premiere by Victory Gardens Theater with Actors Theater of Louisville and was part of this year's Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Appropriate photo-GB.jpg
Fitzgerald, Graeff and Kupferer. Photo by Michael Courier.

Appropriate is the story of a white Southern family whose members reunite at the family plantation in southeast Arkansas some time after the patriarch's funeral. Toni (Kirsten Fitzgerald), a divorced single mother of a teenaged son, Rhys (Alex Stage), has taken care of her father in his illness and now is trying to manage the disposition of the estate--including its debts. Her brother Bo (Keith Kupferer) arrives from New York with his wife Rachael (Cheryl Graeff) and their children to help knot up the loose ends.

Their daughter, 15-year-old Cassidy (Jennifer Baker), is smitten with her smartphone and her cousin Rhys. ("But Daddy, I'm almost an adult," she complains. "No, you're not!" he shouts back.) Their son is young Ainsley (Theo Moss and Mark Page), a rambunctious 10-year-old.

The third sibling, Franz or Frank (Stef Tovar), arrives, after a long separation from the family, with his girlfriend River (Leah Karpel). Naively, they hope to achieve some financial gain from the estate. Their relationship with each other and with the rest of the family is framed by clich├ęd addiction/recovery dialogue that River feeds to Frank.

The family is haunted by the past. The plantation cemetery, where many generations of ancestors are buried, lies just beyond the mansion. The slaves owned by the family are buried in a separate burial ground nearby.

One of the secrets uncovered is an album of shocking photos (their actual content is never revealed) that illustrate that father was a racist, a bigot and perhaps worse. The siblings try to decide what to do with the photos--bury them, sell them? The antique value of the old photos could partially solve the estate's debts and provide a little income for the siblings.

In a morning burst of ecstasy, Frank manages to resolve the question by sending the photo album to a watery demise.

And as if to eliminate any doubt about the past, young Ainsley races down the stairs in his grandfather's KKK hood to punctuate the ending of act one.

A recurring theme is the presence of the 13-year cicadas, whose life cycle of emergence, mating and death is dramatized on stage. The cicadas' clicking choruses provide sound effects as the scenes progress.

Fitzgerald plays a strong woman who dominates the stage, especially in her terrific monologue in act two. Kupferer is a good counterpoint to her personality. The whole cast is generally strong and the two teenagers are very believable. (But Baker as Cassidy needs to work on her voice. At some times during the performance, it was difficult to hear her.)

Gary Griffin, who is best known locally and nationally for directing musicals, does an excellent job of moving the dramatic action along in Appropriate and directing the mood from humorous to tragic to eerie. The living room setting by Yu Shibigaki works well for all these scenes, including a punching, hair-pulling family battle when tensions reach the breaking point.

Playwright Jacobs-Jenkins, an African-American writer from Brooklyn, has delivered a tightly written play with naturalistic dialogue about a white family that talks around race without ever addressing it directly.

Appropriate runs through Dec. 8 at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., with performances Tuesday through Sunday; times vary. Tickets are $20-60 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-3000.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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