The Dismemberment Clan: A fractured family confronts a secret.
The Dismemberment Clan: A fractured family confronts a secret.

What’s the right way to react when you learn a grim secret? The best strategy when a brother calls you on your bullshit? The sensible response when—rather than turning away from a confrontation—your sister-in-law digs in and says, if not in so many words, “Bring it”?

Those are just the surface questions in play in Appropriate, a caustic new comic drama about a fractured Arkansas family that’s gathered to clear out the crumbling manse of its recently deceased patriarch—and to work through several generations’ worth of transgressions, both faded and fresh. What’s with all this crap granddad has been hoarding? What’s the place going to sell for, with that slave cemetery out back? And wait, WTF? Is that a photo album full of…oh dear God please say it’s not.

An excitingly nervy Deborah Hazlett plays the clan’s worn, wary eldest, with a rumpled David Bishins as the middle brother who’s been funding things from the safe remove of New York City and Beth Hylton as the brother’s fastidious wife. They’re the core grown-ups—more or less. Less, in that they’ll lean in as a lifetime of friction sparks to full-on, flaming crazypants before the night is over. More, in that the family black sheep (Tim Getman) will turn up in short order, 20-ish girlfriend in tow, to make them look positively well-adjusted.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is a young writer whose intelligence comes blistering off the page; an unmistakably contemporary voice who’s cheerfully admitted a fascination with the humid histrionics of Tennessee Williams; and a 20-something, D.C.-rooted African-American button-pusher whose blackness manifests itself chiefly, at least in this Southern Gothic sizzler, in his sly refusal to preach much about race.

And he needn’t. As the Lafayette family’s adults (and an assortment of offspring who’ll clearly be spending some substantial time in therapy) come to grips with their own demons and the ones the paterfamilias may have danced with—or may not have?—questions of serious personal failings and sobering historical horrors get tangled up with the most sweeping of themes: How possible, really, are forgiveness and reconciliation? Do people really change? And can we, not knowing those answers, ever really know each other?