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Michael Esper, Corey Stoll, Sarah Paulson (Photo: Joan Marcus)


By Fern Siegel

Appropriate opens with the deafening sound of cicadas. It's an unusual choice, given that male cicadas chirp as a mating call. But there is no connection in this Arkansas plantation home. The Lafayette children have come to auction off their father's estate to pay his debts.

Like most families, the trio has to unpack the psychological implications of death. Sibling anger, resentment, greed and selfishness erupt. The Lafayettes, however, are struggling with something more: a disturbing racial legacy. They knew the plantation housed a cemetery of unmarked Black graves. But when they discover their father's horrifying possessions, the South's sordid racial history takes center stage.  

Now on Broadway at the Belasco Theater, Appropriate, set in 2011, wrestles with truth, illusions and the difficulties of confronting a troubled past. (The production's Broadway debut unintentionally dovetails into current politics. The nation is re-litigating the Civil War, veering between historical truths and Confederate myths.)

Toni (a top-notch Sarah Paulson) insists their father was a product of his time. Her brothers, magazine writer Bo (Corey Stoll) and younger brother Franz (Michael Esper) are more preoccupied with their own issues — and with any value the new findings, however explosive, may hold. Franz has a nasty back story, but wants his siblings to forgive his addictions, abuses and decade-long family absence. Bo is the classic middle child. He avoids conflict, focused solely on ways to eradicate their financial burdens so he can return to New York.

But as playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins reveals, a dangerous past can't stay buried — personal or political. And the siblings either confront, deny or profit from family history.

Natalie Gold, Alissa Emily Marvin, Michael Esper, Sarah Paulson, Corey Stoll (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Appropriate boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including Elle Fanning as Franz's New Age vegan girlfriend, ably directed by Lila Neugebauer. Toni is worn out and embittered by her lifelong responsibility for her brothers and father. Paulson's character may not be likable, but she is understandable. Her caustic verbal confrontations are some of the best moments in the play. Yet the drama is jam-packed with so many issues, including sexism and antisemitism, it could drown in a sea of troubles.  

(The family drama owes something to Tracy Letts' August Osage County, which debuted on Broadway in 2007 and dealt with a dysfunctional family, addiction and Native-American culture.) Appropriate has some telling moments and raises important ideas. It's the sheer number of woes that proves overwhelming. The cicadas sound effect, from Bray Poor and Will Pickens, doesn't help, nor does the confusing imagery of the last scene. Sets are by dots, costumes by Dede Ayite and lighting by Jane Cox.

Still, Jacobs-Jenkins' interesting, disquieting work, deserves our attention as it battles with thought-provoking issues that continue to haunt Americans.

Appropriate, Belasco Theater, 111 W. 44 St.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes