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Sarah Paulson Stars In Powerhouse Play

Editor’s Note: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Appropriate, starring Sarah Paulson, Corey Stoll and Michael Esper, re-opens on Broadway tonight in a commercial transfer to the Belasco Theatre. The play, starring Sarah Paulson, Corey Stoll, Michael Esper, will run through June 23.

Appropriate originally opened at the nonprofit Second Stage’s Hayes Theater on December 18 and played its final performance on Sunday, March 3. The full cast returns tonight with the exception of Elle Fanning, who was unable to return due to previous commitments. The role of River will now be played by Ella Beatty.

The following review was posted on Deadline December 18.

Pay attention to those loud, annoying cicadas – they seem to have a story to tell.

At least they do in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins superb, marvelously performed Appropriate, the Second Stage production opening tonight at the Helen Hayes Theater with one of the best casts – headed by an astonishing Sarah Paulson – on Broadway.

A blistering family drama directed by Lila Neugebauer (easily matching her exemplary work in 2018’s The Waverly Gallery), Appropriate is a wicked cacophony of nerve-wrenching mystery, old resentments and laugh-out-loud comedy – the latter all the more remarkable coming, as it does, within a story about the darkest horrors of America’s legacies.

Legacies that, as Appropriate so effectively demonstrates, can’t stay buried for long, despite all best efforts. Like those cicadas, which we’re reminded stay underground for 13 years before invading our surface turf, hate, along with secrets and grudges, has a way of making itself known.

Set in the summer of 2011 – before Black Lives Matter, before white America had even begun to absorb the vocabulary of cultural appropriation – Appropriate brings together a mostly estranged trio of siblings as they reconnect to deal with their late father’s estate – a former plantation home in Arkansas, no less, a massive, deteriorating house occupied by various and extended members of the Lafayette family for many, many generations.

Paulson, Elle Fanning

Joan Marcus

Estate sales and off-stage head-of-the-family deaths are always ripe for drama, particularly of the bickering survivors genre, but Appropriate takes the scenario to new heights. But first, let’s meet the family: There’s eldest sibling Toni (Paulson), whose anger and cruel outbursts are equaled only by her blind allegiance to her late father.

Michael Esper, Stoll, Paulson

Joan Marcus

Next in line is Bo (Corey Stoll), long the family’s deep pockets but now in dire financial circumstances. He’s more even-tempered than sister Toni, at least until he isn’t.

Then there’s Frank, or Franz, or whatever the very troubled outcast of the Lafayette family is calling himself these days. Adeptly played by Michael Esper, Franz has been MIA for a decade or so, making what seems like an at-last successful struggle with sobriety after a past crime that only gradually makes itself known to the audience.

Along for the very bumpy ride are Rhys (Graham Campbell), Toni’s moody, mostly silent and very troubled – that word is inescapable when it comes to the Lafayettes – teenage son; Rachael (Natalie Gold), Bo’s Jewish wife who knows all too well the bigotry that hums in the very walls of the crumbling house; River (Elle Fanning), Franz’s much-younger fiancée whose new agey hippie bromides seem oddly pointed; and Cassidy (Alyssa Emily Marvin), precocious 13-year-old daughter of Bo and Rachel who will play a crucial role in resurrecting some of those decaying family secrets.

Finally, there’s little Ainsley (played at the reviewed performance by Lincoln Cohen), who mostly runs rampant through the old house – and who delivers one of the most startling Act I closing moments in recent memory.

Playing out on a massive, two-tiered set gorgeously designed by the dots collective, Appropriate sets itself up early on as a fairly standard, battle-for-money family dogfight before taking a decidedly horrific turn. A photo album is discovered among dad’s old detritus, and it’s not filled with the usual smiley Polaroids: The album contains photos of lynched Black people. And that’s not even the most gruesome discovery to be found stashed away in the nooks and crannies of the old plantation.

Esper, Graham Campbell

Joan Marcus

Did the grim artifacts belong to dad? Where they left behind by other ancestors? If so, why did dad keep them? These questions fuel the family battle that follows, as each character struggles to come to terms – or not – with a legacy inextricably tied to America’s ugliest history. And just wait until one of the characters realizes the artifacts might be worth big bucks to the right collector.

To reveal more of the plot – and there is much more – would be to spoil much of the play’s power, so best to focus here on the characters and the cast’s performances. As Toni, Paulson, best known to TV audiences for her American Horror Story franchise roles but long a favorite among New York theatergoers, is unsparing in her viciousness. Toni fancies herself a truth-teller, and to a large extent she is, but she’s also oblivious to the truths that cut too close, from her late father’s secrets to the hate lurking beneath the surface of her teenage son’s silence.

The rest of the cast more than holds it own against Paulson’s tornado of a performance. As Bo, Stoll (House of Cards) takes what could be the least interesting character – the cash-strapped, supposedly enlightened peacemaker-turned-grabber – and finds the nuances that Jacobs-Jenkins plants like so many little weeds.

Natalie Gold, Stoll

Joan Marcus

Esper, suggesting at points his memorable performance as the creepy stalker in the David Bowie musical Lazarus, keeps us guessing throughout Appropriate as to Franz’s true nature: Recovered and reformed? Or the odious predator that Toni swears he is?

Equally fine as the spouses (or soon to be), Gold (Rava Roy in Succession) and Fanning (Catherine the Great in Hulu’s The Great) walk the line – well, trample it, as often as not – between observing and participating in the family combat, making clear Jacobs-Jenkins’ point that the sins of history tarnish even those who think they’re watching from a safe distance.

Campbell, in a terrific Broadway debut as the gloomy, ready-to-explode Rhys, and Marvin (who all but stole last season’s Grey House as the ghost of a Holocaust victim), capture the in-betweeness of the younger Lafayettes, teenagers who carry the sins of the fathers and grandfathers in their very beings. Appropriate doesn’t spare them for their youth, but maybe, just maybe, offers the young cousins a moment of grace and possibility.

But not absolution. The future, Appropriate suggests, is burdened with a past as solid as any bloody tree, a point made manifest in a stunning coup de théâtre that unfolds after every Lafayette has left the stage. In a blast of noise (those cicadas again, among other sonic intrusions, courtesy of sound designers Bray Poor and Will Pickens), Jane Cox’s spooky lighting cues and the transformation of the dots’ plantation set from ramshackle to decrepit, Appropriate provides an ending that’s remarkable in its emotional force and stunning in its stagecraft. Neugebauer, Jacobs-Jenkins and their very fine cast resurrect the spirits of history and leave them abandoned, clamorous, implacable and going nowhere anytime soon.

Title: Appropriate
Venue: Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater
Written By: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed By: Lila Neugebauer
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Corey Stoll, Michael Esper, Natalie Gold, Elle Fanning, Graham Campbell, Alyssa
Emily Marvin, Lincoln Cohen/Everett Sobers
Running time: 2 hr 45 min (including intermission)

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