Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review of "Appropriate" - Off-Broadway

Appropriate, recently opened at the Signature Theatre, can be described as a poor man’s version of the play August: Osage County.  I’m not looking to compare the two dramas, but more as a point of reference.  Both revolve around a gathering of dysfunctional family members, the revealing of household secrets, and a lot of shouting and screaming between siblings.

The protagonists—brothers, a sister, and their significant others—have converged at the rundown, ancestral home of their recently deceased father to sort through the mountains of refuse and clutter he left behind.  The set by Clint Ramos is a hoarder’s dream come true with heaps and heaps of useless items and bric-a-brac piled, literally, to the ceiling.  Toni (Johanna Day), the manic, self-pitying sister, has taken charge of the purging process, which has, temporarily, led to a cessation of long time tensions and simmering hostilities with her brother, Bo (Michael Laurence), and his wife, Rachel (Maddie Corman).  With the unexpected arrival of the black sheep of the clan, Franz (Patch Darragh) and his girlfriend, River (Sonya Harum), and the discovery of a mysterious and toxic-filled photo album the tentative détente among the group very quickly disintegrates as in-fighting and accusations punctuate the stage. 

Playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins has taken well-established themes of family strife and friction to create a play that seethes with age-old slights and discord.  Yet while the volatility of the players slowly begins to be ratcheted up, too much of the action and dialogue seems empty, without substance, and a focused direction.  The soliloquies and confessions come up hollow.  Add to that characters that are not very likeable and the result is a production that is loud, but bereft of a satisfying conclusion.  In fact, I thought it was rather a disappointing end.

The cast is uniformly fine, but the roles seemed to lack depth and shading.  Johanna Day as the tortured, self-righteous, and self-appointed head of the Lafayette clan plays the part to the hilt, but she comes across as too shrill and whiny.  Michael Laurence as brother Bo looks to be the mediator among the group but, nonetheless, also plunges into the maelstrom of the household.  Maddie Corman as Bo’s wife Rachel comes across as the most believable character showing equal parts conciliation, indignation, and pure disdain for her bossy sister-in-law as well as her position within the family.  Patch Darragh as brother Franz, with his hidden past, comes across as both arrogant and vulnerable, but his true motives are never fully revealed.  Sonya Harum as Franz’s girlfriend, River, is suitably wide-eyed and outwardly naïve, but has an undercurrent of steeliness and savviness.  The children of the two families, Rhys (Mike Faist), Cassidy (Izzy Hanson-Johnston), and Ainsley (Alex Dreier) are serviceable in their roles with Faist having more substance to his character as a somewhat misunderstood and troubled teen.

Director Liesl Tommy does an admirable job guiding the cast whether in the quieter, more reflective moments of the production or in the larger scale, confrontation aspects of the show.  Even with the shortcomings of the play he wrings a sufficient amount of tension to keep the audience intrigued most of the time.

Appropriate, at the Pershing Square Signature Center through April 13th.

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