A searing portrait of an Arkansas family directed by one of Houston's best directors!

By: May. 22, 2024
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Ron Jones is a legend of Houston Theater. He's an actor, he's a director, he's a producer and a fashion icon (the man dresses to impress!). Ron helps run his own theater company, On The Verge and often directs in other places. And we're here today to discuss the upcoming APPROPRIATE, produced by the DIRT DOGS at the MATCH venue. It opens May twenty-fourth through June eighth. Whenever Ron gets together with DIRT DOGS something magic happens, so I sat down with him to learn more... 

Brett Cullum: First, tell us about APPROPRIATE. What is it about?

Ron Jones: APPROPRIATE is inadvertently a play about race. And what I mean about that is it never really addresses the issue of race. But Brandon Jacobs Jenkins is a black playwright. The play has no people of color; it's an entirely Caucasian cast.

It's a play in which the major theme is that he addresses family as an assortment of mismatched and competing memories. So, as this story is being told, family members remember what happened, but they all remember it differently.

Brett Cullum: I am currently getting pummeled by Facebook ads for APPROPRIATE on Broadway with Sarah Paulson. So, I am amazed that you guys have the rights to do this production simultaneously.

Ron Jones: I know that was a miracle of sorts. I saw it on Broadway before it moved to the latest venue, but we acquired the rights a year ago. When it first came to New York, it would only be a limited run, and it would have been over by the time we started ours, but then they decided to pick it up and take it to another house. So it's still there. So yeah, that's that's good for us.

Brett Cullum: It's great for you guys! I know that the play itself came from 2013. Do you know if any Houston Theater has done it?

Ron Jones: No, it's never been done here before. The Rec Room was going to do it at one point, and then, just before it opened, Covid happened.

Brett Cullum: The producing company with this one is DIRT DOGS, and it's run by a husband and wife team, Melinda Beckham and Trevor Cone. Now, their brand, traditionally from my point of view, has been testosterone-fueled, manly men plays. They've done A LIE OF THE MIND, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, THE GRADUATE, and A STEADY RAIN. And then you came along a few years ago, and you really changed their aesthetic with productions like CLYBOURNE PARK and AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY. How did you get involved with them?

Ron Jones: I stalked them, and they stalked me. I had seen a couple of productions, and I went up to Melinda afterward and said, “I'd like to work for you sometime!” And she was like, “Oh, my God! We'd love to have you work for us!” So it just kind of just kind of happened that way, and we were meant for each other.  

Brett Cullum: Do you get to pick the plays, or have they already slated them?

Ron Jones: I have input. But Melinda is the artistic director and normally decides on the shows she wants to do. She asked me what I was interested in doing. 

We both knew about APPROPRIATE, and I said, "What about APPROPRIATE?" And she said, “Oh, yes! Let me read that again.” And then she did, and said, "Yes, that it's a great piece for DIRT DOGS."

Brett Cullum: As a director, what drew you to APPROPRIATE? 

Ron Jones: I'm always drawn to pieces that have dark humor, and I think this one has a lot of dark humor. And beyond that, it's an extremely well-written play.

It's very prosaic, but it's also very lyrical. If you have ever read any interviews with Brandon Jacobs Jenkins. His inspirations, he says, were Tennessee, Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Sam Shepard, and then more contemporary people like Suzanne Lori Parks.

And he writes kind of in that style. There's a great deal of lyricism in his plays. Especially in the stage directions, because he says that he's inspired by the poetic nature of Tennessee William's stage directions. I remember reading when I first read the play. He says, “The light abandons us and is replaced by darkness.” This is probably how every play begins, but that's a poetic way of expressing that.


I like the characters in this play. They're all very well drawn, colorful, and dramatic in many ways, and he, as in all his plays, creates a great deal of conflict.  

Brett Cullum: Well, to that end… DIRT DOGS traditionally had done plays that featured men, and yet you have really brought in these pieces like AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY, where it takes women, and it looks like APPROPRIATE has a lot of women as well. It needs strong female leads. And it looks like you may have some heavy hitters as far as your actresses in this one. Can you tell me a little bit about who's in this one?

Ron Jones: Melinda Beckham is doing the lead in the show. Skyler Sinclair and Elizabeth Marshall Black are also in it! And a new actress named Carolyn Richards.

So yeah, I have a great cast. And the men are just as strong!

Brett Cullum: Yes, absolutely. If you don't mind me asking, I don't wanna date you. But how long have you been in the Houston Arts scene? And how did you start here?

Ron Jones: Well, it's been 53 years. I started essentially at the University of Houston with Cecil Pickett, whose acting class I was taking, and I was very, very shy. I was a recluse, and he called me and said, “I want you to come in and audition for my next show.” And I did, and that show was a revelation for me because it was way before its time. It was MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN. He cast a black actress as Mother Courage and three white children, one of whom was Dennis Quaid.

It's been a steady diet of acting, directing, or producing for me for the last 53 years.

Brett Cullum: You have a great reputation. A lot of people say that your productions are just outstanding. I just loved AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY.

I really look forward to this entire APPROPRIATE at the MATCH because I think that when you guys come together when you partner with Melinda and Trevor with DIRT DOGS, it seems like some kind of weird magic happens.  

Ron Jones: I think part of that is that Melinda and Trevor are not afraid of things. They sort of have a mantra of danger, and I like that. I like being dangerous. I like going out on the edge with things. I like exploring new issues. And so when we do get together, it's usually a very nice match. And as I said earlier, they're very good about asking me to do things that I am passionate about because I don't like to do anything that I'm not passionate about, and they make sure that that happens. So, yeah, I think it is a really good match.

Brett Cullum: Ironically, a good match and playing at the MATCH venue from May 24th through June 8th.


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