The brand-spankin’ new Mortar Theatre Company is certainly putting its best foot forward. Everything about this group seems meticulously considered — from the mission statement right down to the spiral bound (and personalized!) press kits.
But the play’s the thing, and Dana Lynn Formby’s Inherit the Whole is an ambitious and gritty drama that sets the bar pretty high for this company.
It’s 1984 on a sweltering summer day (a setting which is heightened thanks to the airless hotbox of a venue) with the shadow of the Vietnam war still lingering. Two bothers, Paul (a volatile Christopher Jon Martin) and Jake (Jon Penick), joined by their equally motivated wives Lisa (played with quivering angst by Stephanie Stroud) and Kaiann (a steely Sara Tode) respectively, storm the homestead of their late father to find their other brother, Doug (Derek Gaza), holding down the fort. Doug, a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD and haunted by his father’s recent suicide, protests his brothers’ drive to hack apart the house in search of an illusive buried treasure. But Paul, the oldest and most dominant of the three, remains convinced their late father squirreled away a stash of unknown wealth someplace under the floorboards.
Formby displays a knack for character development, and a seemingly well-developed sensibility for telling stories of those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Each person has a motivation, a purpose and a moment to shine. The complex dynamics between the brothers and the couples slowly unravel before us. And when the dirt flies, the family lets ‘er rip.
At times, however, it can get a little treacly (tough brother Paul tells a long-winded sob story about a butterfly that drags the action down), and I’m not clear why it takes them so long to start digging for the gold considering the oldest brother has an idea where to start looking, but, as a whole, it’s a very strong start for this new company.
I look forward to the next installment by Mortar Theatre. (But please, for the love of all things holy, find a venue with AC!)
“Inherit the Whole” plays through June 27 at the Athenaeum Theatre on 2936 Southport. More info here >