A family in disarray — what really happened?
“Appropriate” or “Appropri-ate”— however you pronounce the title (it has meaning in this play) — runs through Oct. 14 at Curious Theatre in Denver.
Director Jamil Jude’s Director’s Notes talk about what family members may find at the back of “our literal and metaphorical closets.”
As an audience member sits down at Curious Theatre, she or he can almost smell mold and damp decay simply by looking at the meticulously-detailed set portraying the Lafayette family’s decrepit southern mansion in Arkansas.
A prolonged look reveals leaks, soiled walls and general dinginess of a high-ceilinged, once-grand living room, fronted with boxes and boxes of assorted stuff — mementos, books and general junk.
When lights go up on Act 1, the noise of cicadas hums in the background, adding to the feeling of summer heat and depression. The insects are said to only sing every 13 years, soon followed by their death. The sound keeps one on edge, as intended, while tensions build and each sibling eventually launches into their own revealing monologue, building a messy family story.
The Lafayette family gathers after the demise of the family patriarch to sort, divide and argue about who gets what among objects, and about the sale of the run-down family home, which they learn is heavily mortgaged. Soon, a shocking item surfaces, which sets off even more disagreement.
Was Daddy a racist? Daughter Toni (a particularly strong Dee Covington) feels entitled to be in charge since she lives nearby and saw the old man through his final days. She insists he was not a racist and argues with her siblings: Bo (Erik Sandvold) and Frank, the youngest (Sean Scrutchins).
Bo has brought his New York Jewish wife, Rachel (Mare Trevathan), and children: Cassidy (Audrey Graves) and Ainsley (Harrison Lyles-Smith), while Frank is accompanied by his hippie girlfriend River, dressed as an Indian and spouting spirituality.
Frank accuses his siblings of leaving him with a mentally ill and abusive old man while still a child. Although now sober, he had compensated with drinking and drugs.
This skillfully-written and clearly-directed new work by a widely-praised young black playwright, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, peels back layers of stories, set in this old house, which has two cemeteries — one for the white residents and the other for black servants.
Ghosts are just outside the windows. A big mortgage hangs over the property. And the familiar story concept of a family gathering after a father’s death takes twists and turns — but towards what?
You’ll surely walk out thinking.
If you go: “Appropriate” plays through Oct. 14 at Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Denver. Performances: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: curioustheatre.org, 303-623-0524.