The Inheritance of a Long-Term Fault, written by Mêlisa Annis and directed by Vanessa Morosco with additional staging and direction by Annis, is an extraordinary play that explores how the societal structures across many cultures have shaped cultural interactions and defined what is viewed as societal norms to the present day. It is a provocative, thought-provoking look at how colonial patriarchal behaviors and attitudes about women’s roles persist into the present day. It is a show worth seeing and, more importantly, exploring the ideas engendered by it.
The play is structured with two storylines. One is set in a mythological past of a pastoral setting, perhaps a small agrarian settlement, and the other in a present-day college town. The storyline of the past introduces a simple and direct thread of attitudes and behaviors that carries over to the present day in more complex and indirect ways.
The storyline of the past presents the imposition of an alien culture whose goal is the subjugation of the local culture, and in this case, the role of women in the society. The present-day storyline demonstrates how today’s generation of women have inherited that cultural subjugation. A more critical consideration presented by the interplay of these two periods is the change imposed on women’s view of themselves within private and social settings.
As the story begins in the distant past, two women work with wool, one spinning, the other carding. The older one is Gwen, one of two characters solidly played by Gabra Zackman. The other woman is Nest, perfectly embodied by Gina Fonseca. This opening scene sets the tone for the action set in the past that will follow throughout the play. The two women are introduced as strong, self-directed, and confident.
The story shifts to what is depicted to be the living room of a house. A man is busy breaking down boxes to throw away when a woman enters. The man is Josh, one of several characters played with great skill by Craig Wesley Divino. In this instance, he is Me’s husband; she is a geology professor at the local university. Me is the central character in the play. Christianne Greiert gives a character who is outwardly strong, self-directed, and confident but, as will be discovered, has doubts about her own sense of self.
This opening scene of the present establishes the interpersonal dynamics between Me and Josh that will play out throughout the show; he wants a child, but she does not. It also introduces one of the indirect behavioral attitudes indicated through the story of Gwen and Nest, the manipulation of a sense of self. Me is a woman in a male-dominated academic field and college department. An opportunity has developed that will allow Me to be the Keynote speaker at a major geology conference, a big deal for her in her quest for acceptance and respectability in the world of geology studies. Her mentor, boss, and friend Oliver, who was supposed to be the speaker, was stricken with an unknown ailment and cannot attend the conference.
At the conference, Me meets, has drinks with, and is interviewed by Samantha, the other character masterfully enacted by Zackman, a reporter for an important science journal. The interview becomes problematic for Me after it is published. Samantha is a character who represents an interesting aspect of the play’s overall theme. She occupies a liminal space between the feminine and masculine elements of the story, embracing neither.
A new character appears in the world of Gwen and Nest, a man who comes to represent the colonial subjugators of the local culture. He teaches Nest his language, keeps her engaged with gifts, and slowly insinuates himself into Gwen and Nest’s household, ultimately imposing his values on the two women. These dynamics are echoed in the story of Me and the events that happen after she returns from the geology conference.
The interrelated scenes over space and time lay bare the psycho-social issues of what Me wants and what she has inherited from the societal experiences that have carried forward out of colonial subjugations of past cultures. She is in a place of personal conflict where she feels the internal pressure of choosing between what she wants for herself and what is expected of her from the external world she inhabits, a family or a career, not both.
Morosco and Annis superbly direct this production to bring out the essence of the author’s script and guide the excellent cast to create a compelling story on stage. The costume, set, lighting, and sound production elements are also a solid part of this show.
Jessie Bonaventure’s scenic design allows for the changes in location from one scene to the next without the need to reset the stage. It is also a design that keeps the focus on the dialogue and not on any particular aspect of the set. Izzy Fields’ costume design effectively defines each character as the story moves from point to point over time and space. Elizabeth M. Stewart’s lighting design works with the scenic design to clarify aspects of the location and shift the story’s focus. The sound design by Angela Baughman is beautifully subtle and effective in support of the actions on stage.
The Inheritance of a Long-Term Fault (through December 23, 2023)
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street in Manhattan
For tickets, visit bfany.org/theatre-row/shows/the-inheritance-of-a-long-term-fault/
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission