University Theater’s “The Heirs” Dazzled On its Opening Night

Arts reporter Belle Nahoom reviews University Theater’s “The Heirs.”

By Belle Nahoom

The Heirs, co-written by third-year Noah Klowden and third-year Ronan O’Callaghan, ran at The Logan Center February 17 through 19. The small yet remarkable show played two performances before it was unfortunately shut down due to a COVID outbreak. I was lucky enough to be able to catch the show during its performance on February 19 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The first act of The Heirs was performed as a workshop during autumn quarter. As someone who had originally attended the workshop, it was enjoyable to see the progress the authors made in the world of The Heirs. Not only was it exciting to see the conclusion of the story line, but also the potential for character development I had noticed at the workshop truly was developed throughout the second act of the play. Kudos to the writers for their ability to create an interesting and developed piece of theater.

The Heirs stars six characters, five of whom are cousins in the wealthy Von Meyer family. We are introduced to the family’s yearly Christmas party, characterized by bickering and complaining between the rich youth. We learn that the cousins tend to keep to themselves and avoid the older Von Meyer relatives due to constant fighting that occurs during family gatherings. Gerald Von Meyer, a previously estranged cousin played by fourth-year Robert Carhuayo, returns to the family with his girlfriend, Jane, played by third-year Vivian Soong, to try to get back on good terms with his relatives. Upon arriving, Gerald learns that his grandmother, Granny Annie, had passed away before he could fix their relationship. After hearing the news, the cousins begin to argue among themselves about who will receive what from the will. The play follows each character as we learn about their needs, wants, and relationships to the family line. The show is a bittersweet take on the interactions of wealthy family members and the role of inheritance in their lives.

The characters are all “mildly unlikeable.” As co-writer Klowden puts it, “The idea of mildly unlikeable [characters] is one that I think back to. Each character has problems, but nothing that strikes them down as totally irredeemable or hateful. My hope is that the audience understands these are people with very human problems, and all of them have the potential for overcoming their flaws.”

I found it interesting to learn about each character’s major flaw and their experiences dealing with these issues. In spite of these flaws, all the characters had redeemable qualities that gave the audience a sense of sympathy for them. Every actor gave standout performances. Actors spent very little time off-stage and had to stay in-character while on stage, whether or not they were in the audience’s line of sight. The six performers were able to maintain the energy of a tense family dynamic throughout the show, with the one outsider character obviously feeling excluded from much of the family drama. The hours of rehearsal were evident in the cast’s perfect performances.

Adding to the play’s truthful reflection upon wealthy households in America, the scenic design of the Von Meyer household brought the audience into the Christmas spirit. Wreaths, Christmas baubles, and vibrant decorations adorned the stage. Not only the luxurious Christmas decorations but the entirety of the set reflected the family’s wealth. The large portrait of the family’s wiener dog was a nice touch on the set’s wall and reminded me of the ridiculous items that many wealthy families display in their households. The family’s alcohol display, the comforting fireplace, and the family matriarch’s fancy desk all helped bring the Vanderbilt-esque family home to life.

Other notable aspects of the show included its sound and lighting design. I thought it was phenomenal that each time a character opened the door, you would hear the sound of chattering coming from the other room. This little, but remarkable, detail of the show made the play truly feel realistic. Furthermore, I enjoyed the lighting changes that moved the scenes throughout the room. It never felt boring to watch scene changes because the lighting flowed with them so gracefully.

Though the show itself is slightly long at about two hours and 30 minutes of run time, the experience is worth the time commitment. The Heirs is a testament to the potential of undergraduate writers and acts as proof of the opportunity undergraduates have to display their works in main stage productions at UChicago. Luckily, for any of those interested in seeing the show who could not see the performance in-person due to the cancellation, a recorded performance was streamed on Twitch and is planned to be available on Vimeo!