Fall play "Appropriate" to address racism and white privilege

By Natalie Rubio-Licht | September 20, 2017 8:38pm

by Kayli Gribi / The Beacon

This year’s fall play “Appropriate” is a blistering and relevant critique of white privilege. When a family discovers the disturbing racist past of their recently passed grandfather, they must navigate the cultural inheritance they are inevitably connected to. “Appropriate,” directed by Jessica Wallenfels and written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, opens in the Mago Hunt center on Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

“Essentially it’s about a white family dealing with racism in the absence of people of color,” Elijah Fisher, senior theatre major and assistant director of “Appropriate,” said. “And to see that is interesting because I don’t think that society or people deal with that on a daily basis.” 

“Appropriate” is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s third play about race. His two other plays with themes of race and racism are “Neighbors” and “An Octoroon.”

The director, Wallenfels, is an Masters of Fine Arts candidate in directing at the theatre program. She will graduate this spring and this show is her thesis production. Having had more experience as a choreographer, she hasn’t focused on directing dramas which makes her work on this play more challenging, she said. 

Jessica Wallenfiels
by Kayli Gribi / The Beacon

“There are two sides to me as an artist,” Wallenfels said. “A dance and music side, and the gritty, contemporary side. I looked at this as an opportunity to work on that other side.”

With this play, Wallenfels hopes to help start a dialog about race and racism with viewers.  

“Our hope is that people come away from this play looking for ways that they can do more for racial equity and not to step away from the subject matter saying, ‘well that’s not me,’” Wallenfels said. “We wanted people to feel implicated and that may be uncomfortable but that may lead to positive change, whether it be recognizing your own bias or conversations with friends and family.” 

Much of the cast has similar hopes.

“I think it's a very interesting show,” Pat Johnson, junior history major who plays Beauregarde “Bo” Lafayette, said. “It has important messages about not burying things we come across, particularly as it concerns our roots and as it concerns the history of our country.”

However, some of the cast worry that some viewers will misinterpret the show’s message.

“I’m worried people are going to come see the show and be like ‘Wow. That's dark.’ And hustle out without really letting it affect them,” Emma Pace, senior theater major who plays Antoinette “Toni” Lafayette, said. “I think if people sit with it and don’t just come for the entertainment value but come to learn a little bit, then they might take something away from it.” 

Cast and crew of the play Appropriate listen to professor Rebecca Gaudino in a pre play seminar
by Jeffrey Braccia / The Beacon

To avoid misinterpretation of the play’s themes, a student moderation team is holding informational discussions after two of the performances to discuss what the audience saw. They will also be hosting a workshop called “Race, Power and Privilege” on Sept. 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. 

“We’ve been putting together a lot of the outreach,” assistant director Fisher said. “That’s a lot of what I’m in charge of. Just to put that seed in people's mind is what we're going for.”

Costume designer Angelmarie Summers invited theology professor Rebecca Gaudino for an informal seminar to talk to the cast about intergenerational trauma, complicated grief and other topics related to the play. 

“It looks like a play about a white family, but it’s a play about our nation,” Gaudino said. 

Fisher said that students won’t fully understand the show without seeing it. “Appropriate” runs from Oct. 4 to Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee showing on Oct. 8 at 2 p.m. 

“Get excited and come see what it’s about,” Fisher said. “You can project what you think it’s going to be like but you don't really know what it’s going to be until you come see it.”