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A CurtainUp London Review

"What are you now? The Forgiveness Police?
— Bo
Monica Dolan as Toni
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had two hit plays in one year in London, Gloria and Octoroon. Appropriate is an earlier play about a white family who have inherited a plantation house at the point at which they have to sell it and all the contents. The wonderfully named Fly Davis has designed a first act set stuffed full of dusty, worthless possessions, the disposal of which the three siblings have jointly inherited.

Monica Dolan plays Toni, the eldest of the three. She is divorced and has brought up her teenage son Rhys (Charles Furness) on her own while also caring for her aged father who lived in this house. The younger son Frank or Franz (Edward Hogg), as he now styles himself, missed his father's funeral and has only recently been traced after being away for ten years. Lawyers were advertising to find him. Franz climbs in through the window in the night with his girlfriend River (Tafline Steen) surprising Toni and Rhys.

Beauregarde or Bo (Stephen Mackintosh) is to arrive from New York with his wife Rachael (Jaimi Barbakoff) and his two children Cassie (Isabella Pappas) and Ainsley (Oliver Savell). The lights fail and eerie music is heard while the stage is in complete darkness at each break.

When a collection of photographs and postcards is found, the family are mostly shocked but the children are inevitably curious. We have been told that very near the house are two graveyards, one with stone graves of the Lafayette family going back generations and the other, of unmarked graves where the slaves were buried.

The macabre collection of photographs illustrate lynchings of black people and other savagery meted out to the slaves and their families, and onlookers. The children stumble on the album but it is removed by their parents. The question then arises as to who owned and collected these nasty images, even participated in the ceremonies? Toni vociferously defends her dead father from accusations of racism with excuses that that was how people behaved then and what they believed. This embarrassing aspect of their family history turns out to be valuable to collectors of Southern macabre.

Rather than letting things rest there, Rachael, Bo's wife and Jewish describes how she was treated by her father in law, how she overheard him calling her "the Jew wife" to someone else. This starts Toni attacking Rachael.

Franz has a long history of drink and drug abuse and some rumours about sex with underage girls, children. With River supporting him he makes a speech, presumably the making amends step of the 12 Step addiction programme. He apologises to his family for his deviant behaviour but also explaining how he blames his parents for his addiction which seems to defeat the purpose of taking responsibility for himself.

Although Appropriate may sound grim there are many laugh out loud moments and interesting performances. Toni is the most opinionated and the least likely to compromise. Inevitably, like many bereaved family arguments, some of the dispute comes down to money and time: who has spent the most bailing out the house or time caring for their father and how much of any proceeds are deserved?

I think what is most striking about this play is the lack of empathy I felt for any of the characters and what a feat this is for a playwright to balance his writing so we only feel dislike. There is a spirited and vocal performance from Monica Dolan as Toni contrasting with Bo's quiet resignation. River and Franz seem to be taking the higher ground but not really when it comes to money. Toni's analysis of what family is and what it means proceeds the spooky stuff critics aren't allowed to write about for fear of spoilers. A comedy with myriad layers beneath the surface.

To read Elyse Sommer's review of this play during it's Off-Broadway rungo here.

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Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Ola Ince
Design: Fly Davis Monica Dolan, Jimi Barbakoff, Charles Furness, Edward Hogg, Steven Mackintosh, Isabella Pappas, Tafline Steen, Oliver Savell, Orlando Roddy
With: Ed Thorn
Lighting Design: Anna Watson
Sound Designer: Donato Wharton
Fight director: Bret Yount
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes including two intervals
Box Office: 020 3282 3808
Booking to 3rd October 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th August 2019 evening performance at The Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)
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