Sunday, March 9, 2014
Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has created a southern family, the Lafayettes, who are right up there in theatrically dysfunctional behavior with any characters penned by Tennessee Williams, Horton Foote or Tracy Letts. The three Lafayette siblings have gathered at the family home in Arkansas, a former plantation, not long after their father's demise to hold an estate sale and auction the dilapidated house. The eldest, Toni (Johanna Day), an embittered recent divorcee, is in from Atlanta with her teen-aged son Rhys (Mike Faist), whose recent brush will the law has cost her her job. Bo (Michael Laurence) is a type-A New York executive who has brought along his Jewish wife Rachael (Maddie Corman) and two children, Cassidy (Izzy Hanson-Johnston) and Ainsley (Alex Dreier). To the consternation of his siblings, younger brother Franz f/k/a Frank (Patch Darragh), who had vanished 10 years prior after an incident with an underage girl, has reappeared with his New Age fiancee River f/k/a Trisha (Sonya Harum). It's not long before the three siblings are having at each other, pouring out resentment and blame. In sorting through the vast piles of their father's stuff, they come across an old album with photos of lynched blacks. Discovery of this album raises troubling questions about their father. The shouting and screaming are punctuated by a series of surprises. The playwright lays it on a bit thick, but the result is never boring. Clint Ramos's set is remarkable: it quickly creates a mood and has some surprises of its own. Director Liesl Tommy really keeps things moving. While the play has lots of negatives, for me at least, they were outweighed by its energy and ambition. I am not sure whether the title is the adjective or the verb or perhaps both. In selecting Jacobs-Jenkins for its Residency Five program, Signature Theatre has made a promising choice. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission (at 3/9 preview). Nudity alert: There's a short scene of partial male nudity.