‘Appropriate’ needs editing to strengthen this look a ghosts of the past

Death brings about many questions. What is the appropriate things to say? What is the appropriate thing to do? How does an executor keep appropriate relations between family and friends? These are questions that any family will likely have asked or be asking, but Branden Jacobs-Jenkins are less ordinary problems in mind, but not all of them are properly fleshed out and while you won’t die from the two-hour plus length with two intermissions, you likely won’t leave totally at peace with this production at the Mark Taper Forum.

The play begins in the dark, literally, and we are kept in dark figuratively for a while. Two young people are entering a darkened entry way by way of a window. Frank (Robert Eitzel), or Franz as he now prefers to be called, is a lanky, easy-going guy who seems more sensible than his companion and lover, River Rayner (Zarah Mahler). They have just traveled through the family graveyard which spooks River, but he recalls that in the forest there is a black graveyard as well. Where are we? Is this just a deserted mansion where two young lovers mean to have forbidden fun? Is this a burglary and do our two lovers mean to steal to support themselves?

Bumping around in the dark, they awaken a man who has been sleeping on the sofa, Rhys Thurston (Will Tranfo). We then learn that Frank is the prodigal son who has been lost to the family after losing his way. He has returned to the house of which he owns 1/3 of, at least until it is auctioned off in a few days. Rhys is his nephew, the son of his belligerent Toni Lafayette (Melora Hardin), the bitterly divorce  older sister who helped raised Frank after their mother’s death left the unseen father a widower. Toni’s son seems suspiciously like Frank in demeanor.

The father has died and his funeral was six months ago, but the lawyers couldn’t find Frank, who left in some disgrace after disappointing both Toni and their father who had meant to turn what had once been a summer home into a bed and breakfast in southeast Arkansas.

Besides Toni and Rhys, the older son, Beauregarde “Bo” Lafayette (David Bishins), his Jewish wife Rachael Kramer-Lafayette (Missy Yager) and there two kids, Cassidy Kramer-Lafayette (Grace Kaufman) and Ainsley Kramer-Lafayette (Liam Blair Askew alternating with Alexander James Rodriguez–the latter was the performer opening night) have come down to help prepare for an estate sale before the property auction.

Things are far from friendly, even between Bo and Toni. Bo feels he has been “bankrolling” the late father’s convalescence because “some of us don’t have fat alimony checks to fall back on” and he and his family do not want to be “held hostage to your own hardship.” While everyone hopes that the sale of the house will resolve many financial problems, Bo comments that “we are sitting on a hard sale” because the graveyards.

Frank who calls himself Franz in his new life is on a 12-step program. He has come to apologize, mostly to Bo. “I am an alcoholic; I am a drug addict” he declares. He asks for the forgiveness from his two siblings, but only Bo will forgive him. Toni has more to say and holds on bitterly to their past.

But other things come out. Different perceptions of the late father, particularly fueled by a photo album they find with disturbing photographs of dead black people. This isn’t the only skeleton in the closet that haunts this family reunion. Frank got involved with a local girl and the father was forced to “buy off that girl’s family.”

We don’t see the girl or her family. We don’t see any of the upstairs rooms. All the action takes place in the downstairs area where River and Frank first came in. One intermission is used to clean up the place for the estate sale and the auction, but Toni, who leaves in anger, has a trick up her sleeve, one that is a metaphorical slap in the face of the others.

In the end, we do learn a bit more about both the father and Frank and the scandals attached to both. Yet the resolution is not enough to hold our interest. The second act meanders and the third act provides some answers and an idea of what happens to this house. Hope is dashed by Frank’s actions although he means well. Cassidy and Rhys form a bond and there is hope for the future of this family.

Director Eric Ting could tighten up the flow of action, particularly at the end and perhaps make Hardin’s Toni more sympathetic. Yet the basic problem is the strength of the first act, is followed by a cluttered second and third act.

“Appropriate” continues through November 1, 2015 at the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.

Performance Days and Times:

• Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m.

• Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m.

• Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

• No performance on Mondays.

Ticket Prices: $25 – $85  (Ticket prices are subject to change.) 

Tickets are available

• Online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

• By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.628.2772

• In person at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Music Center

  • Group Sales: 213.972.7231
  • Deaf community information and charge: visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ProjectDATE or call TTY (213) 680-7703

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