Westport Country Playhouse
Westport Country Playhouse is currently presenting a grand production of “Appropriate,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ meaty, intriguing, if imperfect family drama. Bringing to mind such works as “August: Osage County” and “Buried Child,” “Appropriate” is a lengthy play that manages to capture one’s attention throughout. Taking place in Arkansas, at a dilapidated plantation home, “Appropriate” concerns what happens when the patriarch of a family has died and his three grown children must decide how to divide up their father’s legacy.
Director David Kennedy has done a superb job of staging the show and he has elicited wonderful performances from his entire cast. “Appropriate” is a truly fascinating work, with a host of interesting characters, and it is great that Westport Country Playhouse has decided to present this play. It is quite a significant and memorable evening of theatre.
“Appropriate” starts in a creepy sort of way: the lights onstage don’t come up for a while after the show has started, but the audience is treated to the magnifying sound of cicadas, a kind of bug that only comes out every seven years. Indeed, one gets very familiar with the sound of these bugs, as one hears them between every scene change and at the start of each act. In a way, the noise of the cicadas almost unifies the entire production and the sound seems to set the appropriate mood for Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ spiky, combative and theatrically juicy play.
There are eight characters in “Appropriate” and, thanks to the talents of the cast, they all get their chance to make their mark onstage. This play is almost an ensemble piece, yet the actors playing the three adult children do tend to stand out amongst the company of actors. First and foremost, there is the character of Toni, played by the excellent Betsy Aidem. In a way, the entire play revolves around this character and her reactions to the rest of the family and it is high praise to say that one often feels like wringing this character’s neck. Aidem does a magnificent job of portraying the abrasive Toni, warts and all, and, by the conclusion, one can almost see the arc that this character has traveled throughout the show.
Playing her two brothers, David Aaron Baker and Shawn Fagan are equally good. Baker is pretty great as Bo, who lives in New York City, and one can see immediately that he is somewhat out of his element in Arkansas. Without giving too much of the plot away, there is a great deal of resentment between the three siblings, as far as to who took care of their father during his dying days and who stayed away. Falling in the latter category is the fine Shawn Fagan, as Franz, who has reappeared after a long absence, bringing home his new-age girlfriend, River (the delightful Ann Crivelli). Various significant skeletons are uncovered during “Appropriate,” particularly a collection of racist photos, which may or may not have belonged to their father.
Also in the cast is Bo’s Jewish wife Rachael (the terrific Diane Davis) and two teenage characters, Allison Winn, as Bo and Rachael’s daughter Cassie, and Toni’s son Rhys, played by Nick Selting (both performers are outstanding). In the smallest role, Christian Michael Camporin, as Ainsley, the young child of Bo and Rachael, certainly holds his own in this impressive cast and he makes a shocking appearance in the second act (not to be revealed here).
The production of “Appropriate” has been perfectly assembled by director David Kennedy, with stupendous contributions by scenic designer Andrew Boyce, costumer designer Emily Rebholz, and lighting designer Matthew Richards. Standing out the most, though, is the sound design by Fitz Patton, featuring the almost overwhelming sound of the cicadas. If Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Appropriate” seems to contain a multitude of possible endings and features a somewhat bizarre, drawn-out finale, this not-quite-perfect play still proves to be crackling theatre and is definitely worth a look.
“Appropriate” continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through September 2, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.
Photo: (L-R): Shawn Fagan, Diane Davis, Nick Selting, Betsy Aidem, and David Aaron Baker
Photo by Carol Rosegg