Family drama has more than an undercurrent of social commentary
You might just feel open revulsion for every character in Available Light Theatre's production of “Appropriate” by the time the play ends.
There's also a chance you'll find common ground with any one of the nearly unredeemable members of the Lafayette family, even though you might wish you hadn't. Like most families, there's a fair amount of dysfunction that drives their interactions with each other. “Appropriate” isn't the first play to address this, nor is it the first to use the device of a family returning to its roots following the death of a parent. But in this case, that family history also traverses some very difficult socio-political territory, and that's what elevates “Appropriate” (it's not made clear whether this is the verb or adjective use/pronunciation of the word).
Adding insult to each family member's faults and insecurities is the apparent revelation that their father might not have been the person, or at least only the person, they thought he was. A photo album surfaces that includes numerous photos of dead black people that appear to have been lynched.
“That aspect of the play centers on race and the troubled history of the South, but it also highlights the idea that we don't share every aspect of our lives with everybody,” said David J. Glover, who directs for Available Light.
Each of the late patriarch's three children – Toni, the eldest, sees herself as the caretaker, and is a single mother raising a teenage son; Bo now lives in New York with his wife and two children; and Franz, the youngest and, of course, the black sheep – falls easily into existing conflicts and old rivalries. They're haunted not by literal ghosts, but by the spirit of attitudes and, perhaps, actions of the past and a family's unwillingness to acknowledge them lest they speak ill of the dead.
“Toni can't believe, can't accept her father was anything other than a great man, and she's looking for someone to agree with her,” said Kim Garrison Hopcraft, who plays Toni in the AVLT production. “The audience is going to learn a lot about how we use the generations of men as an excuse. But it's also going to see how family dynamics shaped who we are.”
“[Playwright] Branden Jacobs-Jenkins does a wonderful job of not letting [the audience] escape. He's asking questions of both the characters and the audience, and only briefly are there moments to come up for air before being sucked back in,” Glover said.
“I do think the audience will feel some exhaustion,” Hopcraft said.
The weight of the family history and its effect on subsequent generations has consequences for the family home itself, as revealed in a staggering coda.