Appropriate, at Actors, Looks at Modern Family Dysfunction

God knows they’re all dear to me
But if the truth be told,
I like it when they come,
But I love it when they go.
I’m sure they’ve got good qualities
But the bad ones cover them up.
I don’t like half the folks I love.

Paul Thorn’s funny little song would make a great soundtrack for Appropriate,  one of the new plays debuting at Actors Theatre’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.

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Larry Bull as Bo and Jordan Baker as Toni. Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as part of the 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays. Photo by Alan Simons

The setting for “Appropriate” is the home of the family patriarch, who has just died. Two sons and a daughter are there to parse through belongings and quibble over what money might be left over. There’s no easy way to divide the duties, the spoils or the shame for how Dad was treated in his last years.

Each of the adult siblings has family issues. Franz missed the funeral because he was out of touch, but shows up with his too-young fiancee to get his share. Toni, middle-aged Mom, plays martyr for caring for Dad in the end, but her own teen son is giving her problems. Bo financed Dad’s end-of-life care, but his Jewish wife is appalled that Dad used a slur to describe her.

But the twist, and it’s a good one, is the discovery of evidence that dear old Dad was a racist. A book, filled with disgusting photos of lynchings of African-Americans, has been discovered. Bo’s teen daughter is quick to post Instagram photos. There is, of course, conflict over what to do with these images, especially after the idea surfaces that they might have some value to online collectors.

Now, if you’re old enough, you can remember parents or grandparents or relatives who tossed around the “N” word like the day’s newspaper. Correct them, and cause discomfort at Thanksgiving dinner, or let it go because they’re too old to change their ways. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins brilliantly exposes reactions to the racist discovery in each character.

The dialogue is intense throughout, and the actors are brilliant. Most of us have endured family gatherings, spending time with all these relatives we “love” but don’t’ really “like,” just like in the Thorn song.

Check for a performance of Appropriate at the Actor’s calender.

 

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