A bounty of stage ideasBy Roy Rodenstein
Written by Erin Lavik G
Directed by Ronni Marshak
With Heather Joy Anderson, Teresa Huang ’97, Ian Dowell, Eric Lindblad G, Kortney Adams G, Anne Sechrest, Anand Sarwate ’01, Vladimir Zelevinsky ’95
In Kresge Rehearsal Room B
September 17 and 18, 8pm
Multiple themes run across The Inheritance, a playful new play written by Erin Lavik G and directed by Ronni Marshak. The title at first refers simply to an overstuffed pink nursing chair, handed down over several generations, that Hannah Anderson is trying to give her daughter Matti. Matti, 28, is not pleased about the heavy-handed hint that she should settle down and establish a family. Over the course of the play, however, the audience, Matti and even Hannah herself learn that there is much more to the inheritance than a simple rocking chair.
The play opens with fresh banter between mother and daughter about whether Matti should accept a dull but solid job or follow her longtime desire to write a novel. As Hannah tries to convince her daughter to settle for opportunities in the here and now, the play turns to flashback. Hannah’s father and his siblings come to life onstage, re-living Hanna’s good and bad memories of mid-century Lynchburg, Virginia.
Matti learns of Violet Grey, an aspiring painter who makes the difficult choice to leave home and follow her creative quest; of her brother Malcolm, a stodgy southern beau, who learns to follow aspirations of his own; and of their brother Edward, who chooses a life as a bookseller because it gives him the chance to learn all he ever wanted. Though the plot sounds heavy-handed, the play’s first act is light as can be. Edward experiences rejections when applying for even menial jobs; the result is saddening and amusing at the same time. Violet similarly runs across a hot-tempered mentor who comments on her paintings, not always favorably. Meanwhile, Malcolm embarks on a sweet courtship of prep school dropout Emma Myers, an unconventional flower fanatic who doesn’t mind working with dirt all day, even if the society ladies sneer at her for it.
Throughout these scenes, the production is delightful. Sound effects of trains and rain pan across the stage illuminatingly, humorous use is made of stage entrances and exits, and the transitions from Hannah and Matti’s conversation to Hannah’s narrative flashbacks of the Greys are effortless.
The second act begins on similarly solid footing. A marvelous scene at a Christmas ball, with four parallel threads of foreground action, is exciting and challenges the viewer to keep up with all the action, although when each thread tries dialogue in turn the transitions are slightly abrupt. The production deserves credit for pushing the standard linear theatrical conventions. At the ball, Edward reveals to Emma he has found love in Andrew Morris, a divorce lawyer. Though once an outcast herself, Emma cannot accept Edward’s free choice, and with her breakdown so begins the play’s decline.
The remaining half of the second act surprisingly turns its back on the script’s earlier originality and freshness, and becomes a conventional series of illnesses, deaths, and lamentations. The play’s last scene results in a jarring personality change in Hannah and wraps up the play’s message into an unnecessarily obvious and neat package. The early playfulness of the mother-daughter banter is gone, and the beginnings of a hearteningly realistic exchange on generation gaps and finding one’s own way are abandoned.
Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy for most of the play. The dialogue, when not attempting steep dramatic heights, is crisp and funny. “What am I, chopped liver with two left feet?” is heard at the ball, and when Malcolm asks Violet “Will you ever outgrow melodrama?” she confidently retorts “I hope not!” These lines, as well as some dramatic scenes, are carried by the committed cast. Ian Dowell, as Malcolm, is appropriately stout as the most conventional of the quirky Greys, and his scenes with Anne Sechrest’s unaffected Emma are relaxed and touching. Kortney Adams G plays the freewheeling Violet with the sparkling manner of Julia Roberts, which works wonders for the lighter scenes, and sustains some dramatic weight as she comforts Edward after his debacle at the party.
Indeed, Eric Lindblad’s performance as Edward, whose ambitions are no lesser than the other Greys’ for being internal, rings true throughout. The most successful dramatic scene occurs between Edward and complex and reticent Andrew Morris, played by Vladimir Zelevinsky ’95. Their earnest attempt at facing down a restrictive society works due to committed acting, and also due to the lack of distracting, melodramatic music which unfortunately hampers other heavy scenes. Anand Sarwate ’01 is entertaining in the meager role of Graham Grey. Anchoring the play are Heather Joy Anderson and Teresa Huang ’97 as Hannah and Matti, whose mother-daughter rapport is low-key and believable. Also look for Anderson in a brief but hilarious role at the ball as an intoxicated society lady who loves to show off her Persian pearls to anyone who will listen.
Overall, The Inheritance is a mixed bag. Its infuriatingly blatant ending, which viewers could do without, and drama sustained with varying degrees of success are the major shortcomings. Outside the scope of these, however, there is much to like. The refreshing acting and occasionally shrewd dialogue go a long way toward a solid play. Along with these, creative use of stage and time, and especially the instances of parallel narrative, make this production worth watching.