Chicago Theater Review: APPROPRIATE (Victory Gardens Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 16, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

A NEST OF VIPERS

Don’t stop the presses. Yet another blatant spin-off (if not rip-off) of August: Osage County has splattered on the boards. What the world needs beyond peace and prosperity, it seems, is one more dysfunctional drama about a dysfunctional family. (Which is more defective, you may well wonder?) Unsolicited but eager to deliver his toxic goods in this world premiere by Victory Gardens Theater, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins lavishes us with bullseye-wearing characters defined by their quirks (don’t give me that “inner life” crap!) and crammed with vile bile. It’s all too Appropriate.

Kirsten Fitzgerald and Kieth Kupferer in APPROPRIATE at Victory Gardens

Sadly, there’s a perverse payoff in watching from a safe distance the Lafayettes–a doomed, racist, hateful clan–self-destruct. It’s just what detonated regularly in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer winner (which itself borrowed shamelessly from Long Day’s Journey, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and especially The Little Foxes). We endure a slew of shock-effect revelations and ugly twists that expose a cesspool of sociopathic behavior: drug-taking, financial skullduggery, child molestation, greed, incest, spousal abuse, anti-Semitism, and the pursuit of porn. Unfinished baggage gets unpacked, obscenities and recriminations are screamed and bellowed, and blame is thrown Olympic-style. Yes, we learn, loved ones can be hated ones too. Tell us what we don’t know, Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins.

Stef Tovar and Leah Karpel in APPROPRIATE at Victory Gardens

Combine a catalogue of calamities too improbable to be authentic with an audience’s deep if not diseased desire for schadenfreude (“how great my life must be because it’s not theirs!”) and you have a play that contaminates more than it enlightens. The result is a sick sitcom, a very sad evening void of sympathy, pandering to YouTube voyeurism and tabloid tastes. Imagine a chain of embarrassing videos all strung into one script and you’ve got the ironically named Appropriate.

Kirsten Fitzgerald, Cheryl Graeff and Keith Kupferer in APPROPRIATE at Victory Gardens

Following the welcome death of the family’s rancidly racist and compulsively hoarding patriarch, the decrepit family manse, a once-historic Arkansas landmark, is about to be auctioned off in an estate sale to pay off a defaulted loan. (Meant to distract him from drugs, the youngest son’s crack-brained scheme to turn their plantation house into a bread-and-breakfast went awry.) This forced family reunion assembles the father’s three damaged adult children. Alcoholic Toni (Kirsten Fitzgerald) is the control-freak daughter who loathes life, bullies her drug-dealing son Rhys (Alex Stage) and insults anyone in earshot. Materialistic Bo (Keith Kupferer) is the middle child, eager to profit from his past even as he denies it–which means trying to get a six-figure offer for a hideous heirloom; a family album filled with horrific images of the broken bodies of lynch-mob victims, the perfect complement to the graveyard outside the mansion where the unmarked bodies of dead slaves infect the ground. Bo’s wife Rachel (Cheryl Graeff) is a human dartboard for Toni’s vilest slurs, while her daughter Cassidy (Jennifer Baker) is a tad too interested in her cute cousin Rhys.

Kirsten Fitzgerald, Stef Tovar and Keith Kupferer in APPROPRIATE at Victory Gardens

Ironically, the least-lousy child is Stef Tovar’s child-molesting Franz, who’s seeking a second chance married to River (Leah Karpel), an almost redemptive nature lover. Jacob-Jenkins’ mean play mocks them too, but for being weak, as if strength in this hellhole isn’t pathological. At least the mean mocking in another Jacob-Jenkins’ play, the messy and overly long but provocative and brilliant Neighbors, posed extraordinarily thought-provoking questions about family and race.

Before 150 torturously excessive minutes are over, enough dirty laundry gets unpacked to defy a fleet of washing machines. At the bitter, empty end—as if we didn’t already know there was something rotten from foundations to hurricane deck–we watch the abandoned house slowly disintegrate until an unseen figure with a flashlight enters, searching for God knows what. I get it, I get it.

Jennifer Baker and Alex Stage in APPROPRIATE at Victory Gardens

Gary Griffin, a consummate director who usually can do no wrong, can d0 no more than feed the fuel for this two-act feeding frenzy of a hatefest. Though there’s no occasion to rise to, his eight actors, Chicago treasures on other stages, manage to be as real as their caricatures permit, no small triumph. And all too appropriate.

Keith Kupferer and Cheryl Graeff in APPROPRIATE at Victory Gardens

photos by Michael Courier

Appropriate
Victory Gardens Theater
presented in association with Actors Theatre of Louisville
scheduled to end on December 8, 2013
for tickets call 773-871-3000 or tickets@victorygardens.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 1 comment }

Terrence Mosley November 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

I am writing to offer counterpoint to the readers of this review. I have nothing to do with the production. Full disclosure… I am an African-American male. I am a theatre maker. I do know some of the folks who participated in the making of this piece. We have not discussed any of what I am about to share.

As an African American male there are very few moments in my day (and in my career) that I am not forced to consider race. This fact effects my viewing of this play. Although sometimes it feels like a burden, I am thankful for this particular lens of Point of View because I am forced to consider others in a way that some of my white brothers and sisters don’t have to or don’t have the ability to. APPROPRIATE is much more than what it seems. I’ve been waiting for a play like APPROPRIATE. In every review of this play I have read, no one has brought up race interestingly enough.

I believe race is an integral part of the piece. It is present. It guides that plays steps. Brendon administers medicine with a spoonful of the recognizable (the dysfunctional American family). By doing this you can choose to engage the race component or not and it is still pretty enjoyable. If you choose not to engage (or you’re unable to see) that component of the play, you might have a reaction like Mr. Bommer.

Yes, we’ve seen many a dysfunctional family in recent years but by examining this family’s pain, grief, and the denial of the past and present, we are looking at America’s inability to engage in the complex racist history of this country and the effects it’s had on the people who have been apart of this house. I am not only talking about black folks… I am talking about white folks pain and grief as well. To be in denial of something that large has got to be painful or hugely uncomfortable. At least through engaging each other and sharing the pain there might be a chance to heal. This is a message not only for white Americans but all Americans.

The play is well acted. Well directed. I personally didn’t have an issue with the length. I highly suggest this play and if you want to be challenged. At the very least you will talk…That is what good theatre does. This is fantastic theatre in my opinion!

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