Appropriate: American Family Drama Highlights Toxic Legacy Of Slavery
In its British premiere, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play Appropriate illuminates the dark corners of the American home and history. The Lafayette family gather in Arkansas to sell off their late father’s debt-ridden former plantation estate, where slaves are buried in an unmarked graveyard. As revelations about the patriarch’s own racist attitudes emerge, the latent tensions and resentments between his three heirs, their partners and their children erupt into open conflict.
Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (his deconstruction of Dion Boucicault’s 19th century melodrama, seen at the National Theatre last year) is set on a Southern slave plantation, but Appropriate examines this toxic legacy in the present day. Adding to the great tradition of American family dramas — established by playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard — the play touches on intergenerational conflict, sibling rivalry, contested inheritance and unearthed secrets.
Ola Ince’s full-blooded, atmospheric production (with the menacingly loud buzz of cicadas between scenes) makes the most of the play’s dramatic confrontations, but also delivers its unexpected moments of off-kilter humour. Fly Davis’s extraordinary design displays the jumbled mess left by the dead man (tidied up during the interval), as well as capturing the crumbling grandeur of ‘The Big House’ which is very much a haunted home.
Monica Dolan gives an outstanding, moving performance as the oldest sibling on the verge of a breakdown, at once vindictive and pathetic. Steven Mackintosh is also excellent as the detached elder brother who has substituted monetary payments for emotional support, while Edward Hogg plays the youngest who is looking for redemption from his old life of sexual and substance abuse. But, as the play asks, is it possible to move forward in spirit when you have not yet fully acknowledged the wrongs of the past?
Appropriate, Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX. Tickets £10-£40, until 5 October 2019.
Last Updated 27 August 2019