Despite a Tony Nomination, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Is Still Unsure If He's a Broadway Playwright | Playbill

Tony Awards Despite a Tony Nomination, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Is Still Unsure If He's a Broadway Playwright

He thought Appropriate would be closed by now, but his play is still going strong, and its picked up eight nominations.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Vi Dang

It's been a busy time for playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. He made his Broadway debut with Appropriate, his modern family drama starring an explosive Sarah Paulson, with Corey Stoll and Natalie Gold. Then his play The Comeuppance just got recognized for a bunch of awards, including Outstanding Play at the Lucille Lortel Awards. And Phylicia Rashad directed his newest play Purpose in Chicago.

But despite it all, the playwright still had time to hop on the phone with Playbill April 30. That was the morning he found out that he had received his first Tony nomination, for Best Revival of a Play, for Appropriate. Yes, even though the show had never been on Broadway, Appropriate was deemed a revival. Jacobs-Jenkins shares the category with An Enemy of the People (adapted by Amy Herzog from Henrik Ibsen's play) and Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis.

"I feel insane," says Jacobs-Jenkins. "We were supposed to be closed two months ago." Appropriate started its run at the Hayes Theater, but then had to close at that theatre to make way for Mother Play by Paula Vogel (now a Tony nominee for Best Play). Then a miracle happened. The play moved theatres to the Belasco, where it's now running. And it just collected eight Tony nominations.

Below, find out why Appropriate was considered a revival, and how it's managed to stay on Broadway for six months.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah Paulson, Corey Stoll, and Lila Neugebauer Vi Dang

I remember last time we talked, you were hesitant about being on Broadway. You weren't sure how Appropriate would be received or how your voice would be received. And so now that you got a Tony Award nomination for your writing, how are you feeling about that?
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins: 
I feel insane. It feels insane that I'm in a category with Amy/Ibsen and Ossie Davis. I'm super excited for [director] Lila [Neugebauer]. I'm super excited for Sarah, for Corey. I mean, all of our designers got nominated. Like, this is the best. I respect and love these artists so much. We had an amazing time working together and making this thing together. We opened in December. We were supposed to be closed two months ago. It's just been such a special, enchanted experience. And for this to be really my first time on the Broadway, I'm a little bit speechless. I'm so used to watching these nominations and being just a little bit catty in the way you're supposed to be. But it's wild to be inside the matrix. And to realize that so much of it has to do with affirming, being just so proud of people, happy for people. The work that they're doing is being recognized by a lot of their peers feels cool. And crazy.

I do appreciate how many Off-Broadway playwrights are nominated this year.
That's what I'm saying! Jocelyn Bioh [Jaja’s African Hair Braiding] is like my sister. I've come up with so many people on this list. I feel so proud of everybody. It's crazy! Like the fact that David Adjmi just broke a Tony record for most-nominated play is crazy [Stereophonic]. Like Josh Harmon [Prayer for the French Republic] and I went to Juilliard together. Amy Herzog, Bekah Brunstetter [The Notebook], Kris Diaz [Hell's Kitchen], and I were all in the Ars Nova play group together like 12, 13 years ago. It just feels like a strange, like a wild day. I'm kind of in awe. It definitely feels like there's a generational thing happening, which is very moving to me to be part of.

How do you feel about Appropriate being placed in Play Revival instead of New Play?
I honestly don't even know how it works. I don't understand. But I'm not gonna be like, "Boo!" Not to compare our plays, but David's worked on [Stereophonic] for 10 years. But that play is technically as old as Appropriate is, and that's kind of funny to me to think about. I'd be curious to hear, what's the reason why?

Well, the same thing that happened to Appropriate happened to How I Learned to Drive on Broadway, when it was considered a play revival even though it had never been on Broadway. There's two reasons. One is because it's considered canonical, like it is of the culture, it's been produced so much that it's not technically new anymore. And also, it's a different production than the original.
That's fair.... But what am I doing? I'm happy. Just having my authorship recognized in the category feels like a really generous gesture. I'm not going to complain. And honestly, for me, it's like icing on the cake, because I truly did not believe—if you had called me three years ago and been like, "Appropriate is going to be revived. And it's going to go to Broadway, and it's going to do kind of well, and Sarah Paulson is going to be in it." I would have been like, "Diep, you're being so mean to me. Stop bullying me." You sort of write something and you just really have no idea what's going to happen with it, what its life is gonna be.

Appropriate is still running, how did that happen? Is it because of Sarah Paulson?
It's still running because it's doing really well. It, like, broke box-office records at the Hayes. According to the data, the audiences at the Hayes, were, like, a lot of first-time ticket buyers...Clearly something's happening with the show where the word of mouth is strong enough. And Sarah is, of course, a huge draw. And so is Corey, you know, and Elle [Fanning] was a huge draw there, Natalie Gold—we have a really good balance of legit theatre actors who wound up doing really well with television. So there's just, like, a perfect storm happening. 

I do think it's legitimately word of mouth. I was at the show the other day, because I've never had a show run this long, right? So I've never experienced what the audience looks like in week, you know, 30 or whatever, in a run. I asked [the box office]—I was like, "Who the heck is [in] this room?" And they were like, "Well, it's a lot of local zip codes." And so we think it's actually the friends of the friend who saw the show two months ago who finally bought tickets. And that's a really good sign.

Well, congratulations, you're now a Broadway playwright and canonical.
[Laughs.] That's so funny. Please, don't do that to me. Lord knows the last thing we need is more canon. But I'll take the compliment where I can.

Photos: The 2024 Tony Nominees Meet the Press

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