Reviews

Appropriate *****

By: David Sheward

December 18, 2023: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate premiered at the Actors Theater of Louisville in 2013 and subsequently opened Off-Broadway at the Signature Theater Center in 2014, winning an Obie Award. Now this explosive play is making its Broadway debut in a searing, dangerous, and hysterically funny production by director Lila Neugebauer from Second Stage Theater at the Helen Hayes. In the years since its regional and Off-Broadway runs, it’s become even more relevant and hot. Our country has seen greater divides and racial animosity, making Jacobs-Jenkins’ incisive portrait of a dysfunctional white family facing its troubled past as immediate as the latest Xtweet or Facebook post, but a thousand times deeper.

Michael Esper, Corey Stoll and Sarah Paulson.

By: David Sheward

December 18, 2023: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate premiered at the Actors Theater of Louisville in 2013 and subsequently opened Off-Broadway at the Signature Theater Center in 2014, winning an Obie Award. Now this explosive play is making its Broadway debut in a searing, dangerous, and hysterically funny production by director Lila Neugebauer from Second Stage Theater at the Helen Hayes. In the years since its regional and Off-Broadway runs, it’s become even more relevant and hot. Our country has seen greater divides and racial animosity, making Jacobs-Jenkins’ incisive portrait of a dysfunctional white family facing its troubled past as immediate as the latest Xtweet or Facebook post, but a thousand times deeper.

Graham Campbell 

The play opens conventionally enough with the fractured Lafayette clan reuniting to sell off their late father’s Arkansas estate (the scenic design team dots created the detailed set, spookily evocative of the Old South and haunted houses). As in so many similar plays, films and TV shows, the family squabble, settle old scores, and reveal painful secrets. 

We’ve got the bitter eldest sister Toni (a white-hot, intense Sarah Paulson), resentful that she got stuck with the burden of caring for Dad while neglecting her own troubled son Rhys (appropriately zoned-out Graham Campbell). Hot shot brother Bo (blustering Corey Stoll) and his take-charge wife Rachael (brilliantly brittle Natalie Gold) arrive from New York, ready to dominate the proceedings. Their two kids are in tow (scarily precocious Alyssa Emily Marvin as 13-year-old Cassidy, along with nine-yearold Ainskey played by Everett Sober at the performance attended). Bo and Toni’s black sheep sibling Franz (shattered Michael Esper) sneaks in after dropping off the family radar for a decade, ready to make amends. Accompanying Franz and pushing him to unburden his sorrows is his young, New Age-y girlfriend River (slyly comic Elle Fanning), sharper than she looks.

Natalie Gold and Corey Stoll.

The action takes an unexpected and scary turn when one of the grandkids discovers an album full of disturbing photos depicting African-American lynchings. Like a symbol of the country’s poisonous history, the family cannot seem to rid itself of the vile artifacts. Numerous attempts to just throw them away are unsuccessful. More and more ugly mementoes turn up as the Lafayettes must confront their toxic heritage. How the family deals with them forms the spine of this clever and biting satiric comedy-drama. 

All kinds of ugly issues crop up including racism, pedophilia, anti-Semitism (Rachael is Jewish), hints of incest, and political correctness. Jacobs-Jenkins does not hit us over the head with his themes. His characters are all three-dimensional and not just animated talking points. 

Natalie Gold, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Michael Esper, Sarah Paulson and Corey Stoll.

Neugebauer delivers the full comedic potential of the material, drawing major guffaws from the bizarre action as emotions run high, the action accelerates and conflicts erupts into physical violence (UnkleDave’s Fight-House is responsible for the believable fight choreography.)

The ensemble has spot-on timing, balancing the riotous moments with emotionally devastating ones. In addition to dots’ top-level set, Dede Ayite’s character-defining  costumes, Jane Cox’s atmospheric lighting and the eerie sound design of Bray Poor and Will Pickens create the perfectly upsetting environment. Watch for the spectacular coup de theatre at the end.

Appropriate is the best kind of theater; it makes you uncomfortable and question your basic beliefs and assumptions. See it if you are up for a challenge and a dramatic reward.

Appropriate *****
Second Stage at the Hayes Theatre
240 W. 44th St., NYC
Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission. 2st.com.
Dec. 18—March 3, 2024.
Photography: Joan Marcus

Alyssa Emily Marvin and Elle Fanning.
Sarah Paulson