An Awkward Inheritance is a play crafted from the love of northern Nevadan’s wacky ways and will be coming all the way from New York this summer to debut to Nevada audiences at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City.
While Elise Milner may have built her theater career in New York, her roots grew much closer to home.
Milner was only 11-years-old when her parents informed her and her sisters that, like pioneers of the west, they would be moving to the steep, rocky hillsides of the Virginia City Foothills to build a log cabin from the ground up.
“It was eight acres, completely rocky and steep, and my mom said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get horses to make up for the fact that you guys have to schlep miles to see your friends or to the bus stop uphill both ways,’” said Milner.
However, instead of being horrified by the idea of taking on the challenge of a new rural existence, Milner blossomed amidst the hills and rocks.
“Nevada is a wild playground,” said Milner. “Even as a kid I appreciated that side of where I was being raised.”
Milner wanted to understand the world around her, and so, she began to write, first through journals, then in poetry and mini plays; she even created her own magazine as a child called Horse Talk, which, as a self-described “Horse Girl,” was the perfect way to combine her love of writing and her love of the horses she rode and took care of every day after school until the sun went down.
In the sixth grade, Milner joined the Virginia City Theater Muckers and discovered another passion: acting.
As she got older, she began to ask not only what else is out there, but specifically, “How big can I get?”
Milner packed up her life after high school and first went to San Francisco to learn the ins and outs of broadcasting and stand up comedy. Following her stint in San Francisco, she moved to Los Angeles to learn television directing and writing.
It was while working in television that she first came up with the idea for An Awkward Inheritance, which would be a television sitcom-style series showcasing the unique culture and lifestyle of northern Nevada, focusing on a group of siblings who recently came into a mysterious inheritance left to them by their mother.
“I wanted to show the world how interesting and colorful the people of northern Nevada were,” said Milner.
When Milner packed up again and moved as far East as she could to New York City, she began focusing on plays and producing.
“Figuring out I was a producer was when I finally realized what exactly my career would be,” said Milner. “It took me coming to New York to find that out.”
In 2002, Milner wrote her first show, which was a comedy/musical and sold out in New York City before it even opened.
She continued to write more and more plays as the years went on, but the idea of a Nevada-focused story was always in the back of her mind.
“I finally had it written in perfect television format, and I was getting ready to pitch it,” said Milner. “I had some people over and when they read it, they said, ‘You should turn this into a play first. This is so funny.’ And these were New Yorkers who had no idea about northern Nevada culture, but they got it.”
In producing her Off Broadway shows, it generally takes Milner about six months from inception until opening night, which even includes writing the scripts.
An Awkward Inheritance was first performed Off-Broadway in 2019 and sold out on opening night.
“The audience loved it,” said Milner. “They definitely got the jokes, and they were fascinated at the same time with the education on Nevada culture.”
The description of An Awkward Inheritance is billed as the following:
Mabel Kane, a spunky, adventurous, woman of mystery, and notorious community leader of a very small town in Nevada, has just died, leaving her three, grown, estranged and dysfunctional children to sift through Mabel’s wishes AND demands for her lucrative estate. Hoping to cash in and run, her children, Marigold (a married therapist), Jadge (a drifter) and Thelma (A DMV teller) are shocked to learn the REAL truth about their mother and her life and the fate which beholds Mabel’s estate for all. When the complexity of Mabel’s entanglements within her businesses and the community are revealed, no one will ever be the same.
The show was a hit, says Milner. Unfortunately, soon after it opened, the pandemic struck, and theaters across the country were forced to close for the well-being of public health.
“About two to three months ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” said Milner. “I didn’t want to go through all the trouble of putting another show together just to get shut down. I was waiting for a sign.”
Soon after asking for a sign, her sign came in the form of her sister, who still lives in Gold Hill, Nevada.
“She called me and told me, ‘You need to bring this play to Virginia City.’”
Milner called Piper’s Opera House just to ask questions about rental fees, and ended up leaving that conversation by booking her show for July, with only needing to pay a percentage of the box as the fee to use Piper’s.
The production has already generated community support and sponsorship and will be performed by local actors, with a local crew to run the lights and sounds.
“It’s an entire team we’re building out right now, and the entire community has been so helpful and supportive,” said Milner.
Milner booked another show date for An Awkward Inheritance in the fall back in New York.
“They’re back to back, but it was more important to get the Nevada one done first, because it’s important for me,” said Milner. “I want to come out for a month to get it set up, rehearse it—it’s going to be a dream.”
In another moment of serendipity, Milner reconnected with her old friend and fellow Virginia City Theater Mucker Suzanne Lynn who is now her co-director and co-star on the production.
“We have rekindled our friendship and our kinship from way back when; it was actually hard to find her over the years, and now we get to have a big reuniting,” said Milner.
Milner says that having her play performed in Virginia City will bring her full circle, by allowing her to honor her roots in the wild west.
“It’s not only paying homage to my hometown, which made me what I am today, but it’s also a 360-give-back moment where I can give all the art I’ve made because of this place, to this place,” said Milner. “I want to inspire the local talent to show them, hey, if a woman producer coming to New York with 22 cents in the bank can figure it out, you can create your opportunities everywhere.”
The play will debut at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City this coming July 15 and 16 at 8 pm. with a matinee show on July 17 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $30 for general seating online and $35 at the door.
Kelsey Penrose grew up in Carson City, Nevada, is an alumna of Arizona State University, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Creative Writing with Sierra Nevada University. She lives and gardens in Washoe Valley. Support Kelsey’s work for the Sierra Nevada Ally here.
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