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Signature Theatre Presents "Appropriate" at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents "Appropriate" at The Pershing Square Signature Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Signature Theatre Presents:

By Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Liesl Tommy

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Maddie Corman, Patch Darragh, Johanna Day
Alex Dreier, Mike Faist, Izzy Hanson-Johnston
Sonya Harum, Michael Laurence

Scenic and Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Lap Chi Chu
Original Music and Sound Design: Broken Chord
Projection Design: Aaron Rhyne
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet & Christian Kelly-Sordelet
Dialect Coach: Ben Furey
Production Stage Manager: Kyle Gates
Casting: Telsey + Company/
William Cantler CSA
Publicity: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 3, 2014

Branden Jacobs-Jenkinsí new play, Appropriate, for Signature Theatre, directed by Liesl Tommy, begins in blackout style, with the audience nervously giggling, as all we hear are chirping cicadas, for, it seems, 10 or more minutes. It turns out that the abandoned estate of the Lafayette family in southeast Arkansas, an original plantation with slaves and large land, is about to receive family, visiting to clean and consolidate belongings, as the dilapidated estate is now for sale, or thought to be. The seven family members and one girlfriend could not be more unpleasant, and, as itís been long told, combined family and stress are inflammatory elements. The set we first see, when the house lights turn on, is a distressed entrance and living area, with piles and stacks of what most would call junk.

Toni (Johanna Day), the eldest and divorced, the deceased fatherís recent caretaker, who sacrificed independence to stay near home, has a teen son, Rhys (Mike Faist), whoís planning to leave her to live with his father. Bo (Michael Laurence), the older of two brothers, arrives with his wife Rachael (Maddie Corman), outspoken and Jewish, mother of pre-teen Cassidy (Izzy Hanson-Johnston) and younger brother Ainsley (Alex Dreier), all New Yorkers, blazingly in contrast to the Southern clan. Franz (Patch Darragh), Toni and Boís younger brother, is the first to appear, with his new girlfriend River (Sonya Harum), who begins as a spiritual sprite and ends as Franzí legal advocate.

As the siblings tear into each other in the human equivalent of the cicadas, personalities clash, or rather crash, beneath each otherís thin skin. At one point, a scrapbook, apparently belonging to their father, is found, with shocking photos of lynched black boys. Thoughts surface of historical, plantation culture and the worst crimes of the racist South. Yet, the resolution of the scrapbook sparks different reactions from each character, from casual photo-copying (the youngest children), to shame and indignation (Franz), to an EBay or auction opportunity (Bo), to a teachable moment (Rachael), to unsettling self-torment (Toni). Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins does not write in a conclusion, but rather uses the visual torture as a catalyst for emotional torture, as the siblings simply cannot have a constructive conversation on this or any other subject. In fact, they further explode when itís learned that the home they just cleaned out will not sell. To make matters worse, Franz takes the scrapbook into his own hands, after much ado over its whereabouts, Rhys tears into his mother, going for the psychic jugular, and Rachael and Toni actually do go for each otherís jugular.

This new play is not only meaningful and written with quality dialogue, itís a timeless set of circumstances, the dysfunctional family trying to relate in a crisis beyond its capacity to first bury old wounds. A mediator would have been welcome. Among the cast, the two youngest actors, Izzy Hanson-Johnston and Alex Dreier, are both poised and confident, performing with exceptional ability. Mike Faist, Toniís son Rhys, realized his role as a troubled teen, and Sonya Harum, as River, shifted from passive to protector seamlessly. This was a character who kept her motives under restraint. Patch Darragh, as Franz, who longed to be forgiven for years of family estrangement, evoked the agony of relentless rejection toward his difficult past. Maddie Corman, as Boís out-of-place Jewish New York wife, performed with hardened thick skin, covering repressed sensitivities. Michael Laurence, as Bo, was volcanic in emotional eruption, while Johanna Day, as Toni, imploded before our eyes. Liesl Tommy directed for the momentum of psychic unpeeling, as each character fully reveals his/her innermost anxieties and angst. Clint Ramosí scenery never wears on the viewer, as itís always disturbing. Broken Chordís music and sound were intrinsic to the horror and mystery of this play. The Sordelet fight direction team had its work cut out, for this production.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at