Written, Performed, and Directed by Jessica Wanamaker
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.26.16
VENUE #4: Abrazo Interno at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Rosie Vaughn on 8.20.16
BOTTOM LINE: Inheritance’s tracing of the female experience through four generations of family is moving and often frighteningly relatable.
Given the tense and often absurd political climate of 2016, it is becoming less and less of a secret that we do not, after all, live in a post-sexist society. Actor/playwright Jessica Wanamaker calls the faults of this society (and its even uglier past) into question through the powerful true stories she relays in her new play, Inheritance.
The solo show is structured as an amalgam of narratives from four generations of her family, which ultimately serves as an attempt to navigate the present complexities and implications of what it means to be female. How is her own story different from those of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother? And, more importantly, how is it the same?
Inheritance is set up simply, with only a chair and an open suitcase gracing the stage during pre-show. Once Wanamaker enters she begins to weave together stories, starting with those from her great-grandmother’s early life in Ireland, and traces them back to the present. She never keeps her own story far from the forefront, which can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the personal nature of the staged events brings out a certain level of raw emotion in Wanamaker’s performance that must be lauded; on the other hand, her stories are so specific—without any clear connections beyond her own life—that Inheritance may at times distance where it might otherwise engage.
It is very clear that the women in Wanamaker’s family (herself included) have not had it easy, and the recounting of their moving stories is incredibly relevant to conversations about gender that are happening today. These stories can and should be told. The questions that Wanamaker grapples with are easily relatable, and—though I cannot speak for all women—they are frequently cause for internal struggle. Less than fifteen minutes into the show she asks the audience “Do you ever wonder what makes us female?” She later addresses the “inherent faults” that come with this label and identity, and wonders how much this has actually changed since her great-grandmother immigrated to the United States with her abusive husband so many years ago.
Ultimately, Inheritance could use a little more time and fine-tuning to reach its full communicative potential. Perhaps because she does not have quite enough faith that the stories of these incredible women will speak for themselves, Wanamaker’s intent is sometimes either unclear or contrived. Putting that aside, however, Wanamaker tells her family’s stories movingly, and in so doing she opens our minds to questions about the present female predicament.
(Inheritance plays at VENUE #4: Abrazo Interno at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 26, 2016. The running time is 40 minutes. Performances are Sat 8/13 at 9; Mon 8/15 at 3:30; Sat 8/20 at 5; Tue 8/23 at 7:15; and Fri 8/26 at 3:30. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org.)
Inheritance is written, performed, and directed by Jessica Wanamaker.