One of Australia’s leading playwrights, Hannie Rayson spent the best part of four years researching and writing “Inheritance.” The result is her most ambitious work in a career of many highlights.
“Inheritance” is a tumbling family saga reminiscent of Nick Enright and Justin Monjo’s 1998 adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel “Cloudstreet.” Rayson’s deft snapshot of contemporary rural life also is akin to Ray Lawler’s quintessential “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll,” from 1955.
Mum and dad are aging and the three kids have begun sniffing around the family farm. Who’s going to inherit the acreage that sustained three generations? It’s worth a mint but nowadays earns less than it costs to run. Should it be sold and split three ways? Or does Nugget have a greater claim because he’s stayed home to work it while the other two pursued lives in the city? Then there’s Ma’s sister Girlie, who lives nearby but relinquished any claim to the property when she accepted $10,000 all those years ago. Girlie’s son Lyle has worked the farm as a wage earner his whole life — what’s in store for him?
Rayson’s characters are at once funny and empathetic, drawn with pungent specificity. Girlie and Dibs embody the generational bigotries still thriving among Aussie rurals. They dismiss politically correct urbanites and share benign contempt for gays, vegetarians, Asians, Indians, Aboriginals, Catholics and city slickers alike. Lyle’s wife is a plain-speaking populist local politician who rides into office on a surge of racial fear and nationalism. The character is based on an actual politician who won a seat in federal parliament in the late ’90s.
Some unevenness in the performances is noticeable because of standout characterizations by Monica Maughan and Lois Ramsey as the sisters and Rhys McConnochie as Dibs’ gay son.
Direction by Melbourne Theater Co. artistic director Simon Phillips is seamless and the set’s fancy hydraulics are unnecessary but welcome.