Yale playwright Jacobs-Jenkins wins first Tony for ‘Appropriate’ revival

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a professor in the practice at Yale, was honored for the best revival of a play during the annual Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a playwright and a professor in the practice of Theater and Performance Studies in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), on Sunday won his first Tony Award for the play “Appropriate.”

Written by Jacobs-Jenkins and produced by Second Stage Theater, the drama won for Best Revival of a Play at the awards ceremony at Lincoln Center.

The play premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky in 2013; Jacobs-Jenkins has revised the work considerably since, continuing to tweak lines for the Broadway production even as the cast was rehearsing, according to a recent profile of the playwright in The New Yorker.

Directed by Lila Neugebauer, it unspools a family drama within the walls of a former plantation house in Arkansas. The three siblings gathered there to sort out their father’s estate are forced to reckon with dark relics of the past when they discover an album containing photos of lynchings. In his remarks upon accepting the award on Sunday, Jacobs-Jenkins gave a special thanks to Carole Rothman, president and artistic director of Second Stage Theater, “for saying yes, after years and years of being told I was too risky, too provocative, and not commercial enough.”

He also said he wanted to share the award with Ossie Davis, the late playwright and actor whose play “Purlie Victorious,” which was first performed in 1961, was nominated in the same category.

The truth is without Ossie Davis, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

The accolades for “Appropriate” are richly deserved, said Marc Robinson, the Malcom G. Chace ’56 Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies and English and professor of American Studies in FAS and professor in the practice of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, one of the most incisive playwrights of his generation, has long challenged us to think critically about how the theater has shaped — and been shaped by — our understanding of race and nation,” said Robinson, who will become the next dean of humanities for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on July 1. “We are honored that he has been continuing that vital work in our classrooms.”

The production also came away with two additional Tonys. Sarah Paulson won for Best Leading Actress in a Play, and Jane Cox for Best Lighting Design of a Play. The play is running at the Belasco Theater in New York through June 30.

Jacobs-Jenkins, 39, joined the Yale faculty in 2021. His plays “Everybody” (Signature Theater) and “Gloria” (Vineyard Theater) were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

In a 2021 interview in The Yale Review, Jacobs-Jenkins said he wrote “Appropriate” while living in Berlin, a period when he started “wondering more deeply about the power of rhetoric and the limits of what a theatrical representation can ultimately accomplish. All three of the plays from that period — ‘An Octoroon,’ ‘Neighbors,’ and ‘Appropriate’— are about rejecting narratives that claim to be ‘about race,’ or ‘about Blackness.’ They’re more about revealing and testing the values of the people who show up to watch.”

Jeremy Strong ’01 won his first Tony Award, for Best Leading Actor in a Play, for “An Enemy of the People.” Two alumnae of the Geffen School were also honored: Linda Cho ’98 M.F.A. won her second Tony, for Best Costume Design of a Musical for “The Great Gatsby,” while Dede Ayite ’11 M.F.A. received a Tony for Best Costume Design of a Play for her work in “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding.” Ayite was also nominated for two other Tonys, including for her work in “Appropriate.”

Wendall K. Harrington, a professor in the practice of design at the Geffen School, received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre, a non-competitive award.

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Allison Bensinger: allison.bensinger@yale.edu,