Donmar Warehouse, London – until 5 October 2019
An Octoroon was the first play of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins I saw and it blew me away. He has such an imaginative and bold approach to difficult themes I rushed to get tickets to another of his plays, Gloria, at Hampstead Theatre. Again I wasn’t disappointed. So I had great expectations as I walked into the Donmar to see Appropriate which is receiving its UK debut.
Set in a crumbling plantation house in Arkansas, the Lafayette family has gathered to sort out their late father’s belongings and sell the estate. They all bring emotional baggage and scars of past events.
Older sister Toni (Monica Dolan) is recently divorced, has a teenage son who has been in trouble for dealing drugs, was close to her Dad and executor (and chief visitor) of her father as he became a recluse and required day to day care.
Bo (Steven Mackintosh) has a good career, lives in New York with his wife and two children and has been financially supporting his father for many years but his visits have been scarce.
Franz (Edward Hogg) is the estranged youngest sibling who turns up after 10 years, his hippy girlfriend River (Tafline Steen) in tow. He’s a recovering alcoholic and, when a teenager, got charged with statutory rape for having sex with an underage girl.
Grief mixes with old wounds and resentments but when they discover a disturbing item among their father’s possessions, it threatens to destroy the image they had of him, tensions rise and the gloves come off.
Appropriate is a multilayered family drama about forgiveness, legacy and what impressions you leave behind. It questions prejudices of past generations, whether they are forgivable and how subtlely they linger. And it also questions what is forgivable and whether past mistakes can ever be left behind.
Where this play is at its best is in the back and forth dialogue and in the quieter more contemplative moments. There is one particularly emotional exchange between Toni and Bo which is devastatingly raw and exposing and says more about the siblings’ relationship and genuine feelings than anything else in the preceding two hours.
Heart-wrenching performances from both Monica Dolan and Steven Mackintosh.
Overburdened with shouting
However, elsewhere in the play, there are a few too many long speeches, delivered with such anger, resentment and frustration they get stuck into one gear and overburden the play with shouting.
There are a couple of sequences which feel overly long, particularly at the very end and I’m not entirely sure it is necessary.
Appropriate isn’t my favourite Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play but it has enough in it of what I love about his writing to enjoy. I’m giving it four stars – just.
It’s at the Donmar Warehouse until 5 October and is 2 hours and 30 minutes including an interval.
My Branden Jacobs-Jenkins reviews so far:
An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre
Second review of Octoroon from its transfer to National Theatre.
Gloria, Hampstead Theatre
Spotted in the audience (an occasional series if people like…)
Loitering with intent to be in the audience was Laurie Kynaston, presumably enjoying a night at the theatre before he has to take to the stage himself in The Son at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Which is very good, btw, saw it at the Kiln Theatre before it transferred and you can read my review here.
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