Donmar Warehouse (venue)
24 August 2019 (released)
24 August 2019
This intelligent thought provoking take on the American Family Drama has a lot to admire. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has taken the genre, given it a good dusting down and added some of his own inimitable storytelling.
He has created a dysfunctional family to rival any in American Literature and shown us how close a family can come to total combustion. From the start, they are a barely functioning unit of three Lafayette siblings, with the wayward brother Franz/Frank appearing to be the 'black sheep' in the Family. His arrival at the crumbling plantation home with his fiancé River, sets off the unfolding drama of accusation, rivalry and blame. They have all collected at their dead father's family home to pick over and clear out the 'Big House' ready for a contents auction and its sell off. However, the dramatic catalyst to the crumbling of their lives, is the discovery of a photo album containing brutal images of slave persecution and hangings. This throws into question the depth of their own personal beliefs, prejudices, secrets and lies which are revealed as they begin to understand the full impact of their father's possible ownership of this album.
The performances are electric. Monica Dolan as Toni is stunningly chilling as the eldest, who relishes the destructive power she has over the family, but is riddled with guilt about not being a 'good mother'. Steven Mackintosh totally inhabits the eldest brother Bo who might appear to be the least flawed of the family, but his final disintegration is the most touching. Edward Hogg plays the youngest Franz's attempts at forgiveness well but there are times when his portrayal appears somewhat overplayed. The rest of the family are exceptionally well chosen and give excellent performances each playing their own flaws with great skill.
Fly Davis's evocative set adds another character having to imbue the possible ghosts of the past and the detritus of their father's hoarding. With haunting lighting by Anna Watson and an unnerving soundscape of cicadas, like an alarm to the family destruction, composed by Donato Wharton.
Ola Ince's vision for the play and the drama that she creates, draws the audience into the lives of this family with exceptional skilll. The unnerving switch between comedy and the shock of black slave abuse, make for a very unsettling evening.
There are occasional moments where it becomes a little too predictable, verging on farce, which feels out of place. However Braden Jacobs -Jenkins writing undoubtedly shows us a more modern and disturbing version of American Family Drama, and his dialogue and character development crackles. His quote from Susan Sontag in the script "No 'we' should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people's pain", is a powerful take lasting message to take from this production.