I am waking up on the second day after seeing Trinity’s Appropriate, by Brandon Jacob Jenkins, directed by Brian Mertes. After viewing, it took me about this long to digest and come up with a coherent way to express not only what this play says to me, but how this play says something I couldn’t find the words to express myself. Of course Trinity pulls through with an amazing set and superb acting, and the director took incredible chances that kept the audience gasping. At one point, if I had been standing, I would’ve dropped to my knees. But all that is expected from Rhode Island’s oldest and largest theater — let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
Brandon Jacob Jenkins is a black author who wrote a play for an entirely white cast — a white family who has to deal with the possibility of the family’s racist past. This is extraordinary, and I commend Trinity for once again challenging audiences to see past their normal everyday constructs and consider things are not always what they seem. I sat in the Dowling Theater before the performance counting the people of color in the room. I might have achieved a total number of 20-something, so this play was being performed for the exact audience it was intended to reach.
Jenkins is brilliant, eviscerating micro-aggression after micro-aggression, from the moment a family heirloom winds up in the clan’s most innocent of fingers. In the eyes of this person of color, it appears as if the author is addressing the mundane answers of a “post” racist society with a little tongue in cheek, but it’s very real. Everything from quotes, “I never owned slaves,” to “Who is Emmett Till?” What I’m saying is Jenkins never lets the intended audience off the hook, intersecting the harsh reality of a negated past with the surreptitious nature of hereditary ideology. If you believe in the magic of beautiful losers or victims of geography, this play is a stalled car in front of diesel engine train wrapped in pretty Mason Dixon Line red bow, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Let’s not be fooled. We are presently witnessing a social climate unseen since the Civil Rights Movement. It is as if we put racism away in a toy box for 40 years and now, after unpacking the toy box, our naivete awakens painfully disillusioned. We just can’t amend the Bill of Rights and say, “All set.” We as a country need to talk about this. In choosing this play for this season, Trinity Repertory Company is saying just that: “Let’s talk.”