Appropriate, Woolly Mammoth’s new dark-as-pitch comedy, delivers a theatrical gut-punch of roiling family drama and erupting emotion set against the backdrop of a crumbling southern mansion. DC-born playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and a surprising cast explore the struggles of the dysfunctional Lafayette family as they wage war over their deceased father’s estate and uncover buried secrets that threaten to rip their clan apart.
The first character the audience meets is set designer Clint Ramos’ meticulous, rundown mansion. Piles of clutter, crumbling plaster, and peeling wallpaper suggest years of hoarding and neglect and portend dark things for the impending family reunion. Ramos has somehow turned decay into art, creating a living display of family disintegration where ghosts of the past roam free.
Against Ramos’ ramshackle backdrop, the Lafayette clan begins to trickle into view. Older siblings Antoinette (“Toni”) and Beauregarde (“Bo”) exchange greetings and soon commence to squabbling over details of the upcoming estate sale to pay off their father’s debts. Deborah Hazlett imbues Toni with the edgy energy of a woman at the end of her rope after years of taking care of her dementia-stricken father. As the curmudgeonly brother Bo, David Bishins counters his sister’s combative behavior with gruff pronouncements on proper estate planning and the urgency of getting one’s life together.
Bo’s outsider wife Rachel, played with defiant yet fragile practicality by Beth Hylton, tries to offer input only to be met with repeated scorn from Toni. Hylton and Hazlett’s antagonistic chemistry provides a fateful spark in the deepening turmoil. Both actresses flex their dramatic muscles, threatening to burn holes in the wall with their smoldering gazes.
Eventually the third Lafayette sibling, Francois (“Frank”), strolls onto the scene with a laid back aura that immediately sets him apart from the others. As “Uncle Frank”, Tim Getman creates a relateable black sheep who fights tooth and nail to wiggle out of any serious conversation or commitment. His fiancee River, (Caitlin McColl), provides some hippie calm and unexpected wisdom within the swirling negative emotions of the family feud.
Closes December 1, 2013
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D Street NW
2 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $45 – $72
Wednesdays thru Sundays
However, the second act gives the play new life. Bo and Rachel’s endlessly upbeat daughter Cassie and Toni’s troubled son Rhys bring fresh perspective to the debate over their fraught family history, buoying the adults’ grousing with needed laughter. As Cassie, Maya Brettell brings hilarious Millennial innocence to bear on sensitive cultural material, punctuating serious questions with Internet-speak like “OMG.” Meanwhile, Josh Adams adds familiar teenage angst to the role of Rhys, forming a grumpy counterpoint to Cassie’s endless energy. His awkward “facts of life” talk with Uncle Frank had me simultaneously laughing and cringing.
Eventually, a confrontation erupts from Jacobs-Jenkins’ carefully-laid foundation of simmering tension. The devastating reckoning, led by Hazlett, manages to cut to the bone of why we hang onto family bonds against all reason and outside counsel. The play strikingly mirrors the real world, where happy endings are in short supply but hope can always be found among the next generation. After setting us up with a steady, sometimes sluggish, pattern of bickering and wry comedy, Appropriate delivers a knockout blow that will take your breath away.
Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins . Directed by Liesl Tommy . Featuring Josh Adams, David Bishins, Maya Brettell, Cole Edelstein, Tim Getman, Deborah Hazlett, Beth Hylton, Caitlin McColl, Eli Schulman . Scenic Design: Clint Ramos . Choreographer: Joe Isenberg . Lighting: Colin K. Bills . Sound . Broken Chord Collective . Costume Design . Kathleen Geldard . Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company . Reviewed by Ben Demers.
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Kate Wingfield . MetroWeekly
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
Alexis Victoria Hauk . DCist
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld