Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Abraham McNeil Adams, Tom Woodward,
Tracee Patterson, and Ursula Cataan and Ireland Derry

Photo by Steve Wagner
Each theatrical season in Northeast Ohio seems to carry a theme. This year is the season of the dysfunctional family. Audiences in this corner of the state have been offered the tribal antics of royal families (Ohio Shakespeare Festival's King Charles III and Great Lakes Theater's Macbeth), American families (the national tour of The Humans), circus families (Blank Canvas' Side Show), brainy families (Cleveland Playhouse's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), black families (Cleveland Public Theatre's Br'er Cotton), families formed by circumstances (the national tour of Rent), and violent families (mone too fragile's The Late Henry Moss). It is Dobama Theatre's production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriate that has set the high bar for guano loco.

The patriarch of the Lafayette family in Arkansas has passed away. The surviving family members have gathered from afar to meet at the rundown mansion with the purpose of selling the house and property and its contents in order to pay off a variety of loans their father procured from the local banks. The surviving family is made up of Antoinette "Toni" (Tracee Patterson), who is a bitter, acid-tongued divorcé who has brought along her teenage son Rhys Thurston (Jacob Eeg) whose drug dealing antics at school has resulted in Toni losing her job as Vice-Principle. Frank/Franz (Abraham McNeil) is the youngest sibling, and arrives with his 23-year-old fiancé, a new ager named River (Kelly McCready), who is acting as Franz's AA sponsor and peacemaker.

Joining the fray is middle brother Bo (Tom Woodward), who escaped the family and moved to New York and married a Jewish girl, Rachael (Ursula Cataan), who felt slighted by Bo's father on a single visit years ago. Bo and Rachael have two children, Cassidy (Ireland Derry), a precocious fourteen-year-old girl who is "almost an adult," and Ainsley (Miles Pierce), who has more energy than both parents combined.

It is Ainsley who discovers a photobook that contains photos of lynchings (which are later found to be worth more money than the house and land combined), which sets into discussion whether the deceased father was a racist and member of the KKK. Further evidence is unearthed as Rhys and Cassidy find jars of specimens containing ears and other body parts. Tucked away in plain view in one of the curio cabinets is a Confederate flag.

Toni resents being abandoned to care for her father while Bo provided long distance support in the form of monthly checks. She also has anger concerning Frank's drug and alcohol fueled life that was financed by the many loans now due. Rachael thinks the deceased patriarch was a bitter racist and anti-semite who referred to her as "Bo's Jew wife" during her one visit to the mansion fourteen years before. Toni also subconsciously blames Frank as the bad example that set Rhys on his path of self-destruction, even though Frank has returned to apologize as part of his ninth step of recovery. Tempers flare in the hot Arkansas summer as an out and out brawl breaks out between all of the family members.

This fine cast of actors convince us that their characters have little if no redeemable qualities. One finds little sympathy for them or their various plights which further testifies to the cast's acting prowess. Tracee Patterson as Toni is so convincing as the loud foul-mouthed older sister that an audience member might want to shout her down. Abraham McNeil Adams gives a finely balanced performance as Frank/Franz as he attempts to travel uncharted sober territory with only River as his guide.

As River, Kelly McCready does a wonderful send-up of a hippy new ager who receives the brunt of the physical violence. Tom Woodward does a fine turn as Bo, who sees the possibility of a cash return as a way to offset his probable loss of employment back in New York City. Ursula Cataan as his wife Rachael begins civilized enough but is soon forced to drop down to Toni's low standards of mouth to mouth and hand to hand combat. Ireland Derry as the older than her years Cassidy shows the yearnings of an adult wrapped in a child's body, while Miles Pierce as her brother Ainsley is the one who discovers the powder kegs that end up blowing the entire situation apart. Jacob Eeg as Rhys is splendid as the slow motion Rhys who is just not certain what his next move will be. The cast is wonderfully directed by Nathan Motta who keeps the action flowing.

Special mention must be made of Cameron Michalak for the tremendous stage design of a fallen mansion complete with mold-streaked walls, dirty and broken windows, and piles of flotsam and jetsam of a life lived too long. A special shout out also goes to the stage crew whose quick hard work transforms the piles of rubble during intermission into a neat and orderly display. The lighting by Marcus Dana adds much to the atmosphere, and the sound design by Jeremy T. Dobbins, while at times overly loud, has the desired effect of setting the scenes.

There is adult language and themes that are not appropriate for young children. Leave the children at home for this one.

As the various pungent layers of this theatrical onion are peeled away, the sins of the father and various family members are brought at last into the light of day as the acrid fumes bring tears for what has passed and been lost forever. Intense, topical, hard hitting, life altering.

Appropriate, through May 20, 2018, at The Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights OH. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone by calling 216-932-3396.

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