Dysfunctional families has been a major topic when it comes to entertainment- movies, books, tv shows and of course theater ( where would Tracey Letts be without a dysfunctional family or two). Victory Gardens is now presenting a “co-World” premiere ( with Actors Theatre of Louisville). Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Chicago veteran Gary Griffin, “Appropriate” is the story of a family and its history as well as its secrets. Two brothers and a sister, who live their own lives now have lost their father. They are gathering at his “old plantation” home, which was supposed to be a “bed and breakfast” to liquidate what they think is an estate that will pay off his debts and give them a little for themselves, but what they find is some secrets that unleash their inner feelings about who they are and what their lives were and will be.
A solid of cast of actors make each of these family members come alive; Toni ( a solid performance by Kristen Fitzgerald) is a divorcee with a teen-age son , Rhys ( Alex Stage) who plans to leave his mother’s custody and go live with his father. It is Toni who has arranged to handle the estate sale/auction as she has been in charge during her dad’s illness and death. Brother Bo ( deftly handled by Keith Kupferer) has been the money man during all this and he and his wife , Rachel ( another solid performance by CherylGraeff) and children, teen-ager Cassidy ( the adorable Jennifer Baker, who might want to learn to project her voice to “the back row”) and a young son Ainsley ( played by Mark Page and Theo Moss). It turns out, young Cassidy has a “crush” on cousin Rhys which also adds to the family’s dysfunction.
The younger brother of these siblings, Franz, also known as Frank (another powerful job by Stef Tovar) has been out of touch for ten years, but is back along with a young girl he has been living with, River ( Leah Karpel) who is a kind spirit that has been the reason for Frank’s change in lifestyle and attitude. As the family talks about the past and what will be the future a book of photos is found. While they never go into them as deeply as we might want them to, these photos assure us that their father was not exactly who they thought him to be- that he was in fact a racist. The home they are in is an old plantation in Arkansas and adjacent to the property a graveyard where generations of family members are buried. Beyond that plot is another grave yard, where the slaves were buried and these photos have some meaning with this area, but we don’t see that until the very end of this startling production that opens your eyes to the fact that there may in fact be spirits that can haunt us.
The set (Yu Shibgaki) is a big old house with a long staircase going to the bedrooms. The furniture and props ( Jesse gaffney) are amazingly accurate and the lighting effects (Jesse Klug) and sound (Chris LaPorte) all add to the picture painted so brilliantly by Griffin. Ryan Bourque’s fight choreography is another outstanding piece of work. The “fight” scene has an entire family using every inch of the stage and amazingly, no one appeared to be injured. The story is one about change in many ways as well. Can a wild person, who did things in the past that were bad, become a good person? Can a racist become more open to others and accepting? Can relatives who have been estranged come together once again? Can people be forgiven for their actions of the past?
“Appropriate” takes a long dark look at many of these questions and allows each of us to think about this family and how it relates to other families ( perhaps, even our own). There are discussions after the performances. Check the schedule at www.vistorygardens.org
“Appropriate” will continue at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue through December 8th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays (11/19 and 11/26) at 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m. ( except on Thanksgiving)
Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $20-$60 and are available at the box office, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org
There is street parking, valet parking and public parking in the garage just one block south of Fullerton ( the old Children’s memorial garage)
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Appropriate”