In a time when political and racial statements constantly populate our news feeds and television screens, we find ourselves more aware of racial themes in entertainment.
People are actively seeking out various forms of expression to analyze our current political status. For Curious Theatre Company this makes an opportune time to start their 20th anniversary season with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Appropriate”.
Jacobs-Jenkins has been hailed as one of the brightest up-and-coming American playwrights. At 32, he has written six critically acclaimed plays, won several awards and was named a class of 2016 MacArthur Fellow.
Curious’ production of “Appropriate” marks this Obie Award winning plays regional premiere and the introduction of Jacobs-Jenkins’ work to the Rocky Mountain Region.
After the death of the family patriarch, siblings Franz, Toni and Bo must come back to their father’s southern plantation and take care of the estate. Once reunited, the family dramas play out, raising old wounds and tensions.
The family stumbles upon a photo album that holds disturbing pictures of African Americans being killed. The photos raise many questions about their deceased father, dividing the family as they all take sides.
Played by Sean Scrutchins, Franz is the recovering alcoholic that is trying to make amends to those he has hurt. Daughter Toni, played by Dee Covington, is a tough and determined woman forged in life’s fires who refuses to believe her father could have been a party to such horrible acts.
The rest of the family jumps to the conclusion that only a racist could keep these photos in their house. After a series of adverse events, the wholesome view of her father is the last shred of good in her life and she will not give it up.
“Appropriate” sounds, looks and acts like an engaging conversation starter about racism in different forms in modern America, but it is not.
The production brings up acts of old-south racism and its ripples in our modern society but instead of engaging in a thoughtful dialogue turns the conversation into a rant of problems that this white family is facing.
The show set up the perfect chance to have an engaging and strong conversation about racism but veered away. It wound up its punch but never threw it.
This was evident in a scene where River, Frank’s fiance, talks to 13-year-old Cassidy who had been looking through the photos. When asked if she felt anything looking at the images, Cassidy responded with, “No, should I?”
Instead of using the moment to have an insightful conversation with the future of our country about racism, River simply walks away and leaves the girl alone.
Jacobs-Jenkins used his script to subtly slip in compelling monologues about racism in hopes that the audience will walk away thinking about it, instead of standing on a soap box. But it becomes a missed opportunity to discuss racism.
The cast includes young adult Rhys, teenage Cassidy and child Ainsley, creating the opportunity to discuss racism head on with children at different developmental stages. Instead the dialogue consisted of loss of family, abandonment of family and acceptance of family.
As the season premiere for a historic and provocative theater like Curious, it was disappointing. Curious has always prided themselves on presenting work that as Producing Artistic Director Chip Walton says, “advocates for a future that is better than today.”
A production should not assume that it’s point of correcting our past mistakes will be understood. Assuming anything about race nowadays is inappropriate, even in “Appropriate.”
“Appropriate” **1/2 (out of four)
“Appropriate” is now playing at Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., Denver CO 80204. Directed by Jamil Jude. Starring: Sean Scrutchins, Dee Covington, Rhianna DeVries and Erik Sandvold. Through Oct. 14. Tickets start at $20. For tickets visit curioustheatre.org or 303-632-0524.