Theater: “Appropriate” starring Sarah Paulson at 2nd Stage
You can choose your friends, the old saying goes, but you can’t choose your family. Even if the latter were somehow possible, you’d never in a million years choose the quarreling, bordering-on-psycho Lafayette siblings in “Appropriate.”
In Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ out-of-the-ballpark-great revival of his 2014 play at Second Stage, two prodigal sons, Bo (Corey Stoll) and Franz (Michael Esper) have returned to their late father’s dilapidated home in Arkansas, trying to cobble together enough of his household goods for an estate sale and auction. Maybe just maybe, they’ll make enough money to pay off the loans dad took out.
The brothers run into a brick wall, however, in the form of sister Toni (Sarah Paulson, in a career-defining role). Toni is the hard-working, unappreciated sibling who took care of her dad in his final years and is bitter about having had to do it all by herself. As if this weren’t enough, she’s divorced and has been left to care for a teenage stoner son Rhys (Graham Campbell) whose misconduct got his mother fired from her job at his school.
Bo, a corporate type from New York, brings along his wife Rachael (Natalie Gold, who played Kendall’s wife in “Succession”) and their two kids, partly to introduce them to his heritage. (Brief aside, Alyssa Emily Marvin is excellent as daughter Cassidy, who has a secret crush on cousin Rhys.) When Mom innocently asks the children to help clean out grandpa’s room, one of them finds a photo album that may indicate grandpa had a less than sterling past. This discovery turns an already shaky family gathering into something bordering on toxic.
Adding even more dysfunction to the proceedings is the appearance, after a 10-year absence, of Franz (fka Frank), an errant ex-drug addict who is determined to show his family’s he’s turned over a new leaf. Franz has brought along his hippie-dippie girlfriend River (Dakota Fanning) from Oregon. River, fka Tricia, preaches love and understanding—to which Toni reacts with cynicism and disgust.
What holds this marvelous portrait of family dysfunction together is Paulson. If she doesn’t the best actor Tony for her work as Toni, then there is no justice in this world. Paulson’s portrayal is multifaceted—on the one hand, she is an embittered, caustic shrew. On the other, she is defensive about her father and won’t entertain any evidence that he was less than perfect.
Dysfunctional families lend themselves naturally to drama—“Dividing the Estate” and “August: Osage County” are two recent examples. But when you combine the quality of the cast in the current revival with Jacobs-Jenkins’s savagely funny writing, you’re looking at a production that’s one for the ages. Go see “Appropriate” and if you’re up to it, invite your siblings. Just make sure you really like them.
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