REVIEW: APPROPRIATE at Curious Theatre
by Devon James
Curious Theatre kicks off their 20th season with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ APPROPRIATE, and from this culture sensitive opener, it is clear they are doubling down on their “no guts, no story” motto this year. “This 20th anniversary season will stretch us all in unprecedented ways, and it will serve as a springboard for the next decade of our organizational growth and excellence,” says founding Artistic Director, Chip Walton.
Curious is known for producing cutting edge work, their regional premiers, and challenging their audiences with ideas we may not have otherwise considered. Oh, and have you SEEN the venue?! Old renovated church in the heart of Denver’s Civic Center district, anyone? It was that mission, their season history, and that stunning venue that brought me and my husband to Denver in continuation of our acting careers. This was the work I wanted to create and witness. To me, this is one of the most important jobs we have as artists; to tell the stories that need to be shared in order to breed empathy. So how does APPROPRIATE fare in today’s World? What is its standout message that needs to be heard at this moment?
The climate we’re in as a Country is confusing, at best. Many of us are beating our heads against the wall wondering how we can be so different. If any one of you reading this has ever reminisced with your sibling, or been through a tragic event alongside someone else, then you know that we can go through the “exact same situation,” and come out with completely different recollection. As we follow the relationships between Toni (Dee Covington), Bo (Erik Sandvold), and Frank (Sean Scrutchins), we witness overwhelmingly relatable family exchanges in the wake of their father’s death. Throughout the piece, we often question how these three were cut from the same cloth and both cringe and nod at their dynamics. Without a doubt, the most controversial part of the piece is the history that has potentially been buried with their departed father. It’s a Southern, white family. I won’t give any spoilers, but you can most likely imagine the skeletons that are in that old Southeast Arkansas closet.
As we observe the maneuvering of this hoarder-esque, plantation home by the family left behind, one message from the playwright is abundantly clear: YOU CANNOT BURY YOUR PAST. If we do not purge our demons, they will without a doubt be back to haunt us. Mirrored by the cacophony of cicadas rising from the ground after years of growing beneath the soil, this family is forced to come face to face with their personal demons and that of their lineage.
Playwright Jacobs-Jenkins offers each character a moment to purge; to purge their secrets, their desires, and their reality. This cast of mixed seasoned professionals and budding artists each hit these marks beautifully. There is certainly more to be discovered in this intricate, multi-faceted, and nearly three hour production between now and closing, but Director Jamil Jude does a great job of unearthing the heart of the play. And let me say, this production team was given a task. It is not everyday that Set (Markas Henry), Sound (Jason Ducat), and Lighting (Richard Devin) Designers are presented with nearly two pages of stage directions on how the play needs to conclude. It would appear one or all could be packing magical powers.
Walking away, I feel hopeful. It presents me with a new way of looking at the World around me. Perhaps the decisions that seem tragic and backwards, will open up the doors for us to once and for all purge this Nation of its poisonous past. Perhaps if we use these times as an opportunity for educating ourselves and others, we can find our common ground. Or perhaps, we will find ourselves in a war of ideas that leads to the destruction of our foundation. Either way, it is certain, that until we acknowledge what lies beneath the surface, it will eventually find its way out in one way or another. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.curioustheatre.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ensminger