Ray Lafayette has died. In time honoured fashion, his family gathers at his crumbling plantation mansion in Arkansas to sell the house and sort out the estate.

The family reunion is a theatrical device frequently embraced by playwrights, particularly American writers. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins makes no bones about the fact that he appropriated the tropes from some of the great American family dramas in his 2013 play Appropriate– referencing plays such as Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County.

Mandy McElhinney, Johnny Carr and Sam Worthington. Photograph © Prudence Upton

But Jacobs-Jenkins, an exciting African-American playwright whose dramas include An Octoroon (which Nakkiah Lui directed for Queensland Theatre) and Gloria(which has been performed in Australia by Melbourne Theatre Company among others), is not only interested in family dysfunction and buried secrets. In a brilliantly subversive move, he adds another layer to Appropriatethat explores the deep stain of racism in American history, despite the play featuring an all-white family.

The oldest of the...