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Review: APPROPRIATE at Profile Theatre

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Obie Award-winning play runs through May 22.

Review: APPROPRIATE at Profile Theatre

APPROPRIATE, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Obie Award-winning play now running at Profile Theatre, opens with an unsettling high-pitched buzzing noise. Is it an overactive bug zapper? An electrical malfunction? A ghost? It's cicadas, the kind that come out only once every 13 years and can wreak all kinds of havoc. In the play, they foreshadow the arrival of many other things the characters might prefer to keep buried.

APPROPRIATE is Jacobs-Jenkins' take on the great American family drama, and the story is a familiar one - after a family patriarch dies, his children descend on the family home to take care of his affairs. But, in true Jacobs-Jenkins style, the play is about so much more than what's on the surface. The family is the Lafayettes and the setting is an old plantation in Arkansas. The property contains two graveyards - one for members of the white Lafayette family and a second, unmarked one that holds the bodies of slaves. As secrets are revealed, the fighting family and the decaying house (Inseung Park's scenic design is top-notch) serve as a metaphor for a much more existential societal sickness.

There are three Lafayette siblings - Toni (Linda Hayden), a recently divorced, recently fired mother of a teenage son (Colin Kane); Bo (the very excellent Gavin Hoffman), a money-obsessed New York businessman who arrives with his wife Rachael (Sara Fay Goldman) and two kids (Tiffany Groben and Nico Spaulding); and Franz (Tayler Caffall), born Frank, the prodigal son who has rechristened himself as a way of escaping his past and who shows up with his new age hippie fiance, River (Elizabeth Rees).

As you might expect, the fighting starts over who is entitled to what. Toni is the executor of the estate, and she also took care of her father in the last years of his life. Meanwhile, Bo wants to be paid back for the money he spent on a caregiver. Franz is conflict-averse, plus he hasn't been around for 10 years, but River is there to make sure he gets his third. This common plotline, however, is turned on its head with the discovery of a photo album that contains pictures of dead Black people, clearly the victims of lynchings. The album, along with other objects found around the house, forces the family to reexamine who exactly their father was and what it means for who they are. But morals fade away pretty quickly at the prospect that the photos might be worth money.

As with all of Jacobs-Jenkins' work, APPROPRIATE has bite. It explodes the well-worn genre of family inheritance smackdown to deliver a blistering critique of what we value in American society and the stories we tell ourselves to keep discomfiting truths at bay.

Profile Theatre's production is more like a low steady growl. The tension is established early on and it remains at much the same level. The result is that you become habituated to the tension to the point that even the most horrifying things feel less horrifying than they ought to. There are also some deliberate choices (particularly the casting of an adult in the role of a 13-year-old girl) that soften the emotional impact.

Overall, APPROPRIATE doesn't quite pack the wallop of, say, GLORIA, the previous Jacobs-Jenkins show put on by Profile. But it does both subvert and expand the genre. Plus, it's always a treat to see a play by one of America's best contemporary playwrights.

APPROPRIATE runs through May 22. More details and tickets here:

Photo credit: David Kinder

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