Review by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media, Photos by Michael Ensminger
Have you ever found something after a loved one has died that made you question their life? Do you have things in your past that you would prefer to keep hidden and not be part of your life’s legacy? Could the same be true for a country and its historical past? Would it just be better to destroy those skeletons in the closet and pretend those things never happened and live in denial of them? Or should we accept and learn from those skeletons while not seeking to profit from them?
Appropriate enough those are some of the underlying questions brought to mind in the current production of “Appropriate” now playing at Denver’s Curious Theater, which happens to be celebrating its 20th year of bringing “No guts, no story” productions to Denver.
The play written by black playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins features an all-white cast, the Lafayette family that comes together for the auction of their dead patriarch’s belongings of his crumbling southern plantation home in Arkansas.
To say the family comes together is a misnomer. Rather the family meets the night before the auction and is quickly torn apart by resentment and mistrust over why they are really there. Some, like Franz, a sibling, have been missing for years lost in a world of drug addiction and alcoholism. The sister, Toni had been caring for her ailing father for the last ten year’s travelling 12 hours at time to tend him. Bo, the elder brother, has also been caring for his father, but from a distance, paying for the estates operating expenses, the light, gas, taxes and such.
Watching the families, no holds barred, arguments over their suspicions and moreover their resentments of one another is like watching a train wreck or a multi-car pileup in slow motion. It’s something you don’t want to see but the damage keeps on coming and you just can’t turn away.
In going through their father’s belongings a photo book emerges containing horrifying images of black slaves and the disgusting things that were done to them. The audience, which is not shown the photos, is led to believe that images are of lynchings, murders, rapes and who knows what else.
The immediate reaction of the family is destroy and deny that their father/grandfather could have had anything to do with this kind of activity. He was not a racist, after all he had been considered for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. Or was he? More fights emerge as the family struggles to accept or deny that this could have been part of their father’s/grandfather’s legacy. “Let’s get rid of it before anyone can know” is the common consensus among the family.
But when Bo, after some historical research by a buddy, discovers the photos are actually worth a fortune, attitudes change and celebration suddenly takes over the family. But where is the book? Who took it and why? An all-out family brawl ensues, reminiscent of a Jerry Springer show, when the surprise ending leaves both the family and audience in stunned silence. Make no mistake, there are no happy endings here only issues that need to be dealt with, like it or not.
The playwright, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins said in an interview for the program that in choosing an all-white cast he wanted to see “how invisible can I make something like blackness and still have it charge the room” The director, Jamil Jude, stated, “In Appropriate, Jacob-Jenkins provides us the opportunity to do some soul searching. He invites us to question our pasts and upbringing and how those elements have impacted our worldview.” He adds, “The fear of what we may find in the back of our literal and metaphorical closets keeps many of us from investigating. We are afraid of the things that we, or someone else may have buried. That fear paralyzes us: forces us to ignore the necessary work of addressing the mess.”
In taking this all in I, in reviewing this play, couldn’t help but draw the parallel from this story to the past and present of our own country. With the tearing down of confederate statues and removal of confederate flags along with the hate spewed by white supremacist groups, our country is much like the family in this play.
Let’s hide our past, not deal with it, before the rest of the world finds out who we really were and who we really are. Did the Holocaust really happen? Director, Jamil Jude put it best, “Our reluctance to do the work of addressing our own histories, sorting out the sordid pasts of our ancestors, and trying to heal those whom we’ve hurt explains why dismantling systemic injustice is so difficult. Our collective unwillingness to admit to the ways in which white privilege, patriarchy, heterosexual bias and other systems of inequalities have benefited a few while disenfranchising others is a plague that we must be delivered form.
The regional premier of “Appropriate” plays at the Curious Theater, 1080 Acoma in Denver through October 14th. For tickets visit Curious Theatre.org or call 303-623-0524.