Theatre: Donmar Warehouse
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Ola Ince
Review by Tamera Heron
Appropriate is the Obie Award-winning play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which has its UK premiere under new direction by Ola Ince.
Appropriate follows the return of the three Lafayette siblings (their own families in tow) to the family home, a former plantation in Arkansas, after the death of their father. Set designer Fly Davis transforms the once grand mansion of the Lafayette’s childhood into the dust filled house of a deceased hoarder, slowly falling to pieces – much like the relationships of this eclectic family.
The play begins with the audience plunged into darkness, the eerie sound of cicadas filling the room. The sound gradually becomes louder until one feels surrounded by a presence that can be felt but not seen, setting the tone of spirits and haunting for the remainder of the play. The audience are left to decide if this is this due to Lafayette family secrets, graves outside the house, buried memories, or all three.
First introduced are estranged son, Franz (Edward Hogg) and his young fiancée River (Tafline Steen), who are returning home for the first time in 10 years. Shocked and disappointed by his return is older sister Toni (Monica Dolan), whose sharp insults roll off the tongue, ready just in case people need to be put in their place – or at least where she feels they belong.
Despite living on a former plantation, the Lafayettes appear to have emotionally detached themselves from the history of their home and ancestors. That is, until they are confronted by a book of photographs, amongst other collector’s items. Some of the Lafayettes believe the album should be sold, discarded, or, as suggested by witty granddaughter Cassie (Isabelle Pappas), shared on social media. As the family decide what to do with the photos, we watch as their relationships and secrets unravel, (re)opening old and fresh wounds.
As befitting its name, the play often teeters between funny and inappropriate, sparking wildly different responses. In one particular scene, the youngest family member, Ainsley (Orlando Roddy) innocently plays amongst his Grandfather’s possessions; he stumbles across an item that leaves audience members laughing from entertainment, sheer awkwardness, or simply shocks them into silence.
Ultimately, Appropriate confronts the past and race, whether it’s ours or ancestors. As the Lafayettes discover, the actions of the latter eventually come back to haunt us. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins reminds us that conversations about race and responsibility should not only fall at the feet of those on the receiving end of discrimination, but also at the feet of those benefitting from institutionalised racism.