Appropriate at Westport Country Playhouse

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

‘Appropriate’ is the play at Westport Country Playhouse. But what is ‘Appropriate?’ That is a question writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins wants us to ask. Is it appropriate for a father to cry in front of his children? Or for parents to deny that their kids have “issues”? How about to deny racism? This play is complex while also a rehash of parts of several better plays which the author appropriated.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting. Even though it’s close to 3 hours long, you won’t doze off!

Part of that can be attributed to Betsy Aidem who, as the pained matriarch, Toni, spends the entire first act screaming at everyone- her family of so-called “misfits” as well as everyone else. This is, at first, unsettling but after a half hour it just becomes annoying. I’m not sure if this is on her or director David Kennedy but, fortunately, she brings some nuance to Act 2, which helps. And the rest of the cast does a fine job with what they are given- which varies constantly as the play about secrets becomes one about revealing them- while bigger secrets remain buried. Or worse, denied.

It isn’t a spoiler telling you the play makes no secret that, while none of the speaking roles are played by African-Americans, race is a central theme here. And the fact the white characters all deny it, while instead focusing on the deep wounds of their childhood which they are all still carrying into middle age- narcissistically- seems to be the focus of playwright Jacobs-Jenkins and Kennedy’s direction.

 (l to r): Anna Crivelli, Shawn Fagan

Given current events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the reactions to them, this play has become remarkably timely.

Yet it doesn’t fully deliver on its promise, which is disappointing. The cast, overall, is solid. Tara Rubin Casting, of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘Indecent’ on Broadway- two of the best casting jobs I’ve seen- again gets every part right. Shawn Fagan, Anna Crivelli, David Aaron Baker and Diane Davis all turn in strong performances. Just Betsy Aidem, as I said, is a bit too over the top in Act 1. The set and lighting are, well, appropriate.

Where the play weakens is that ‘Appropriate’ has appropriated pieces of better plays and they don’t fit as well here in this play. As the author himself notes, he wanted to, quote, “take one thing from each of them… and put those all in the play.”

So we get pieces of ‘August, Osage County,’ ‘Buried Child,’ ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ ‘The Humans’ and others- most are even listed in the show’s program- but these ‘borrowed’ strokes just seem to be piled onto the story instead of serving it, particularly towards the end. And, when ‘Appropriate’ degenerates into a silly family fistfight with almost the entire cast, you know credibility has been lost.

 cast photos: Carol Rosegg

But it’s a valiant- if not really successful- effort. And give Westport Country Playhouse credit for taking on a challenging work. They had two hits already this season with ‘Lettice and Lovage’ and ‘Grounded.’ This time, they just come up short and I give ‘Appropriate’ 2-and-a-half stars out of 5. It runs through September 2nd.

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This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”