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‘Appropriate’ makes no apologies
“Sorry” is a simple, five-letter word many of us use in excess, inappropriately, without its true intent. Two women take the same route at the same time while traversing the entrance to a restroom. “Sorry.” Why the apology? Shouldn’t she simply say, “Excuse me?”
When I was in college I had a psychology-major acquaintance who put the word “sorry” on a pedestal. She claimed as a society we did not use the word enough. She apologized for every action in so much persistence that it drove those around her to frustration. She apologized for that, too.
Apology is the root of “Appropriate,” a play by American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which kicked off the EPAC on the Edge series of staged readings March 31.
Philosophically, the play centers on what we, as humankind, need to own apologetically. Franz (Chris Silansky) has returned to his home with his new amore, River (Margaret Jackson), the day before the family house is set to go up for auction after the passing of his father. He is returning to apologize to his older siblings — Toni (Tricia Corcoran) and Bo (Ken Seigh) — and make amends for his transgression into some dark habits, which mount to a surprise for River.
Franz, whose birth name is Frank, has been gone for 10 years, and in the meantime Toni (the elder sibling) is divorced in tow with her teenage son, Rhys (Jimmy Damore). She feels the full weight of the family, having cared for the ailing father in his final years as her brother Bo moved to New York City and married Rachael (Joanna Underhill); the two have a girl and a boy, Cassidy (Sydney Norgaard) and Ainsley (Brady Norgaard). Tempers flare as the family members bring their own baggage to the forefront of the event, which quickly becomes clouded by unforeseen transgressions of racism, bigotry, and sexual deviance.
As a staged reading, “Appropriate” makes use of a minimal set. Packaging boxes, old geegaws, and family heirlooms are strewn about the Sheridan Bigler Theatre stage (still fresh off the performance of “King Lear”). The minimalism and the ability of the actors to rely on their in-hand scripts allow them to work every word of the text to perfection, driving home the meaning and depth of each word. The actors knew most of their lines already and excelled in delivery.
I had the opportunity to read the “Appropriate” script beforehand, and I do have to say producer (and EPAC on the Edge creator) Alex Bannon made a great decision to open with this 2014 Off-Broadway show. To read “Appropriate” is just as much an experience as watching a reading. The text is filled with not-so-subtle hints of the inner workings of the characters. The words fill a void in a script full of space for interpretation.
When we read any work of fiction, we place voices, style, and appearance on the characters. Often, what we imagine in our minds from what we read on the page is different from what the director puts on the stage. This is true for EPAC on the Edge’s rendition of “Appropriate.” Some characters, like the soft-spirited River, were exactly as I imagined them; Franz was not. When I read the character I gave him more strength and certitude. Director Lydia Brubaker gave Franz timidity and strength that was only a coating on a soft, pliable feebleness. I liked her version better than mine.
Powerful and moving with a darkly comedic element, I wish the performance would have been available for more than one production. I was left wondering what I, or my children, may need to apologize for as I leave this world.
“Appropriate” has easily become one of my favorite plays, and I cannot wait to come across it again in the future.
I believe this bodes well for the rest of the EPAC on the Edge shows, which will continue on Friday, Aug. 11, with “The Whale” by Samuel D. Hunter; like “Appropriate,” the next reading will be co-produced by the Creative Works of Lancaster. The three part series of staged reading ends with “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, and will be staged with the Theater of the Seventh Sister on Friday, Nov. 10.
Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.