Theatre

Monday, 18 November 2013 18:00

Appropriate is Heart-Breaking, but not yet Ground-Breaking Featured

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As the snow starts to fall, Chicago audiences take refuge in heated theatres and family-friendly performances that warm them with holiday cheer. But if someone stumbled upon Victory Gardens this winter, perhaps expecting "It's a Wonderful Life," they'd quickly realize they were taking in something very different: a close examination of a family that is definitively unfriendly.

Victory Garden's "Appropriate," a world premier from young African-American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, follows the Lafayette family as three children return to their deceased father's estate to settle his affairs and their life-long feuds. These adult children - who often act more like children than adults – are played by the powerhouse Kristen Fitzgerald, the comedic Keith Kupferer and the looney Stef Tovar. Along with their "chosen" family – a son, a wife and two children, and a new finance named River, respectively – the three treat each other as only family can: cruelly, hurtfully, and painfully.

Their mutual distaste is heightened when the threesome uncover a secret about their absent father. How Jacobs-Jenkins reveals the secret, though, is a delicate moment that could be improved – we see the characters in shock, repeatedly, before we are let in on what it is. When our imaginations are left to run wild, it can hurt the gravity of the actual secret and make it seem smaller to what is collectively imagine.

Critical reception to the play has been overwhelmingly positive, with many comparing the work to the similarly Chicago-bred dysfunctional family drama "August: Osage County." Workshopped and developed in 2012 at Victory Gardens, "Appropriate" is now officially premiering, though I can't help but feel like it is on the cusp of greatness and not-yet-great. My suggestion would be for the playwright and director Gary Griffin to seek out and nurture moments of compassion and comedy in the play. In such a dark, realistic slice of an American family, we need a balm to go along with the wounds we are watching. Jacobs-Jenkins has a biting wit and command of dramatic tension, and hints of nourishment are present. But without some substantial "holiday cheer" (for lack of a better term), we are far less likely to eat the brilliant medicine he wants to feed us.

"Appropriate" is tearing down the house at Victory Gardens through December 14. More information and tickets at  http://victorygardens.org 

 

 

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