By Tulis McCall
I have been thinking about The Inheritance quite a bit since I had the pleasure of the marathon – Part One and Two in the same day. Of the six plus hours, there is one moment where the great loss from the plague of AIDS is handed to us like a baby in swaddling clothes. Before we know it we have wrapped our arms around the now visible wound that we thought we had left behind. Listen to the NRP interview with Matthew Lopez HERE.
As many of you already know The Inheritance was created by Matthew Lopez as more or less an homage to Howards End. I confess that I have never read the book, and the movie is a distant memory. That is no matter, because Lopez has brought E. M. Forster to us in the character of Morgan – this is what Forster’s friends called him – (the brilliant Paul Hilton). Morgan is the pied piper to this band of present day young gay men who are all struggling with their stories. How to tell them. What matters. Morgan understands their predicament. “All your ideas are at the starting post, ready to run. And yet they all must pass through a key-hole in order to begin the race.”
In particular he befriends the man who will tell the story and feature himself as Adam and a hustler names Leo (Samuel H. Levine). It is his tale, beginning in 2015, that will swirl around the central characters of Eric (Kyle Soller) and his partner Toby (Andrew Burnap) who are in their early 30’s and living in the first inheritance – an enormous apartment on the Upper West Side originally rented by Eric’s grandparents.
Because we all need a little more than a promise of Happily-Ever-After, there is the tiny little revelation of Toby’s state of mind. The best work for it would be manic, but, hey, he is a playwright after all. As we watch Toby slowly spin out into stratosphere as his first play is snatched up and produced, we watch Eric become grounded. He has no purpose, to be sure, and I cannot recall if there is even motion of a job (but who needs on when your rent is $575/month). What he does do, is become dear and deep friends with Walter Poole (Hilton) who is several decades Eric’s senior, and who has stories to tell. All Walter has been waiting for was someone interested in hearing them. His partner of 36 years Henry (John Benjamin Hickey) is not. Eric is. Eric most definitely is.
Although the sturm and drag of the tale hangs on the shoulders of Eric and Toby, it is Walter who persists. As both Forster and Walter, Hickey commands not only the stage but the story. His is the history of gay men before there was an inkling of LGBTQ. His is the story of resistance against the plague. His is the story of action taken in the wake of unspeakable horror. His is the story that makes Part One so complete, and it is the lack of his presence that makes Part Two less compelling. Part One is a play in itself. Part Two is the tale of a few gay men of today, sans struggle, sans purpose, sans familiarity or appreciation for the people who came before and made their lives possible. In other words, sans pretty much everything that would make us care as much as we know we could. The ensemble work and direction are both elegant and precise, but no contest against the lack of substance in Part Two.
The Inheritance – Written by Matthew Lopez; Directed by Stephen Daldry
WITH Andrew Burnap, Jordan Barbour, Jonathan Burke, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Dylan Frederick, Kyle Harris, John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller, Carson McCalley, Lois Smith and Arturo Luis Soria
Lighting by Jon Clark, Production Design by Bob Crowley
Ethel Barrymore Theater243 W. 47th St.Midtown West 212-239-6200
Run time Part One: 3 hrs. and 15 min.; Part Two: 3 hrs. and 10 min.