Also see Susan's review of Tappin' Thru Life
William Faulkner famously wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Appropriate, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' raucous play now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, considers what people should do when they make that discovery.
Following the death of their father, the three Lafayette siblings return to the family's decrepit plantation house in Arkansas to settle accounts. (Clint Ramos' exuberant, two-level set finds beauty and astonishment in a once-great mansion now packed almost to the ceiling with trash and furniture.) They don't feel that much of a connection to the old housethey grew up in Washington and only spent summers on the plantationso they are shocked and shaken to discover evidence that their father was not the man they thought they knew.
Director Liesl Tommy manages to balance the shocking and the mundane while also finding the darkly antic laughter in this family in extremis and its interactions. Moments that inspire gasps are followed by explosive laughs.
Toni (indomitable Deborah Hazlett, first among equals), oldest child and executor of the estate, is working hard to keep control of the situation and take care of her recalcitrant teenage son (Josh Adams). Son Bo (David Bishins) has turned his back on his family history, living in New York with his wife Rachael (Beth Hylton) and their two children, precocious Cassidy (Maya Brettell) and innocent Ainsley (Cole Edelstein or Eli Schulman). The troubled other son Frank (Tim Getman) has been living off the grid and now has reappeared with his much younger girlfriend, River (Caitlin McColl).
The issue is not that the Lafayettes don't appreciate that their family once owned slaves: they know about the old slave burial ground on the property, set aside from the family cemetery next to the house. They just think that some things happened long ago and should remain buried there. One even says, "There are no ghosts here." The grim, abrasive humor comes from the way that the sins of the past refuse to stay where these modern, enlightened people would like to keep them.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company