Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review - Appropriate


Last night, I made another stop at my favorite place in town (well, one of my favorites, anyway), the Signature Theatre to see Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  I had actually seen this play before, at Humana last year, and I was looking forward to seeing it with a new cast and new director.  It's always interesting to see new interpretations of new plays.  Especially plays I had been rather on the fence about.

I went back and looked at my notes from last year's Humana - one sentence stood out for me, because I felt the exact same way last night: "The characters are sharply drawn, but more detail into the the 'why' instead of the 'what' could push this play into headier territory, in my opinion, of course."  That's how I felt again after I watched Appropriate, as if I had seen a play circle around something instead of delving into something.  And the acting seemed to act around the characters instead of inside them.  Again, in my opinion.  I guess I was just looking for something with more bite.  There's certainly juicy subject matter in there.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
I'm a sucker for a good squabbling family drama - I'm a big fan of several of the plays that the playwright mentions as influences in an article I read, especially the Horton Foote play Dividing the Estate.  And I completely relate to many of the issues touched on in this play; for example, I have family members who refuse to accept responsibility for anything and blame everything on others.  I have family members with completely different memories than mine - my grandfather was an alcoholic when my mother was growing up, so he was a much different man in her childhood than he was in mine, after he had stopped drinking.  So I can definitely relate to some of the characters' incredulity about their father's supposed (or not) prejudices.  But something about how this story was presented failed to really reach me.  I was engaged and entertained, but not touched.  That could be just as much my problem as anyone else's.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
I do think this particular production was more sharply directed than the one I saw previously; the final coda, which had so confused me before, made sense to me last night, though I was disappointed that one of the big 'aha' moments was sort of glossed over.  And I thought these actors were more believable as a family unit, fractured though they were.  I still wasn't sold on one of the actor's interpretations (I didn't like the last actor's portrayal of this same character, either).  Maybe I need to look at the script to see what I'm not responding to in the performance. 

The audience didn't seem to be completely onboard, especially at the beginning (many of them seemed to have baggage they brought in with them from the outside).  There is an extended blackout at the top of the show, and my seat neighbors weren't really having it.  They starting tittering, and talking, and one person started clapping rhythmically, as if they could start the play themselves, which caused more laughter, which wasn't really the way to start this play.  I will never understand audiences - you can't sit still and concentrate for a few minutes?!

Moving on.  I do think this play is well-constructed, with good characters and fine dialogue.  If I think there's more that could've been discovered, well, ok.  That's me.  I do look forward to seeing what this playwright brings us next.  He's mentioned that he's interested in form, and trying new forms in his upcoming work.  I definitely think that will be interesting to see...

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