A Southern family gathers at the cluttered, deteriorating ancestral plantation home to settle their recently deceased father’s estate in this atmospheric, audacious production directed by Ola Ince. Dark and troubling matters rustle beneath the foundations (literally as well as metaphorically, as evidenced in the opening scene) and shift within the walls-a disquiet, subtle initially, will shake the rafters with mighty force by the conclusion.
The tensions between the three central siblings contribute to a hothouse environment of resentment, envy and recrimination that electrify the very air in the home, already heavy with humidity and the asphyxiating cloak of history. As Toni, the caretaker of her father and his image, Monica Dolan marvellously, exhaustively maintains an edge of hysteria; prodigal son Franz (Edward Hogg), with a chagrined past of substance abuse and inappropriate sexual contact, steals into the house, at the start, like a common thief; and Bo (Steven Macintosh, gradually teasing out an affecting melancholy and vulnerability) has long since defected to New York and become generally engaged in the pursuit of material gain. Various partners and children have accompanied them to aid in sorting through years of detritus and acquisitions.
Outside, like a brooding, trenchant accusation, is a slave graveyard, an uncomfortable reminder of the domicile’s past. Several racially suspicious items found while rummaging through the accumulated contents spark uncertainty of dear old dad’s sensibilities (one of which, worn by a youngster too fledgling to comprehend its charged impact, rushing on to stage in a gasp-inducing comic shock, is quite awe-striking). When a cache of incendiary photographs of lynchings is unearthed, passing through nearly all hands onstage, setting off palpable reactions that reassemble the very chemistry of the atmosphere, each individual reaction is telling, most found morally defunct.
When the possibility of a substantial financial viability of the images is suggested, the assembled reaction feels like a further exploitation of the dispossessed and bereaved. What do these family members owe to the past and to each other, and must they answer for the sins of their fore-bearers? The artful disorder of the first act may be tidied by the start of the second, but the family is left to confront the litter of grievous emotional truths and unsettling personal revelations in the stark clarity of a rapidly disintegrating environment where ghosts abound and will not be stilled. Writer Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins reignites the conventions of the family drama, bringing down the house in the process. Appropriate runs through 5 October