Reviews

Appropriate ****1/2

By: Isa Goldberg

February 14, 2024: Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins deals in the lexicon of racism that speaks to our American heritage.

His earlier, Obie Award-winning Octaroon, is a farcical send off to the slaves of a foreclosed plantation. In that play, their inheritance is their dispossession. It’s just what they’ve always been.

Sarah Paulson (left) and Elle Fanning.

By: Isa Goldberg

February 14, 2024: Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins deals in the lexicon of racism that speaks to our American heritage.

His earlier, Obie Award-winning Octaroon, is a farcical send off to the slaves of a foreclosed plantation. In that play, their inheritance is their dispossession. It’s just what they’ve always been.

Without the ability to sustain themselves, to hold ono to their own identity, they appear as a cartoonish version of humanity.

In Appropriate, now in its’ second extension – moving to Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, Jacobs-Jenkins has achieved something rare these days – a Broadway hit. How unusual for a so-called straight play to garner so much attention at the box office.

Michael Esper, Corey Stoll, and Sarah Paulson.

Here, a white family tries to salvage the remains of their father’s plantation, now in foreclosure. In this romp through the annals of racism, we see the impact of their inheritance in their deeds.

It’s not what they say, it’s the photographs that emerge to tell their story, and which may carry a financial value that inspires a last hope effort to collect on dad. While the audience does not see the photos that report the plantation’s past, we discover their content through the course of the play.

This, Jacobs-Jenkins’ Broadway debut, and one of the season’s highlights, carries a provocative set. With scenic design by dots, the plantation appears at first like a junk shop – dusty, and dank, with stuff all over the place. We could be in Mamet’s American Buffalo, about hustlers and con men, or Arthur Miller’s The Price, sitting in an attic, opining on the price of one’s decisions. Looking at all the junk lying around, the audience is caused to wonder what to want.

In Appropriate, too, the characters are dealing with the vestiges of the American Dream. It’s not a spoiler alert, but they all do feel cheated.

When the plantation collapses at the end, like a house of cards, the staging looks as though it were inspired by American Horror Story. With Bennett Leak, director of artistic production, and Jane Cox on lighting, it’s quite a spectacle, and continues for what feels like a long time. Bray Poor and Will Pickens create the music of cicadas, a nasty punctuation of irritating noises that carries throughout the show.

Natalie Gold and Corey Stoll

Still, what makes this production so successful is the casting (Jim Carnahan and Alexandre Bleau). With an ensemble of  A-list movie stars, and well known stage actors, the production gives the audience a lot to watch, and hold onto. Most especially, Sarah Paulson (Toni) carries the entire first act with operatic emotion. Entering down the plantation’s cascading stairway, commanding her siblings, and declaring full entitlement, she is breathtaking.

Audiences will recognize Corey Stoll (Bo), whose visage clings to conniving deeds (House of Cards), a dark, vampiric universe (The Strain), and to being a monster billionaire (Billions). It’s all here in his role as Toni’s upright, successful brother, who will stop at nothing.

An ensemble that includes Elle Fanning (River), would be difficult for any director to pull off. But Lila Neugebauer brings this cast of celebrities into the naturalistic setting, with a family at odds, by delivering the characters in the most recognizable ways. Iconic as she is at age 24, Fanning is the brightest character on stage, a true force of nature. Her eyes in continuous sparkle, delivering spirituality and healing, she brings a sense of reason, that goes just an edge beyond the on-stage rivalries.

Sarah Paulson

A favorite New York stage actor, Michael Esper (Franz), as River’s much older boyfriend portrays a man of profound intentions, but with a somewhat lesser ability to carry them out. Spoiled, sick rich boy with a conscience, finds himself literally wallowing in the family mud. He is a beautiful disaster.

Still, Natalie Gold as Bo’s Jewish wife, Rachael, creates the clearest and most articulate character. Like Rava, the character she portrays on Succession, Rachael is a devoted mother to two children. More importantly here, Gold portrays a righteous woman who tries to keep her devious husband somewhat on track.

Among the kids, Graham Campbell makes his Broadway debut as Toni’s strapping, albeit disenfranchised teenage son, and Alyssa Emily Marvin (Grey House) in the role of Bo and Rachael’s daughter is a painfully pretentious, and confusing child. An incorrigible little boy, Ainsley, played by Lincoln Cohen and Everett Sobers alternately, loves to grab attention.

With an oeuvre that deals with race in the most unusual and fascinating ways, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is making an indelible mark on the American theater. Carried by this outstanding team of storytellers, it’s a show you don’t want to miss.

Appropriate ****1/2
Hayes Theatre
240 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
Opened 12/18/2023
Closing 3/3/2024
Photography: Joan Marcus