BWW Review: In Matthew Lopez's Exhilarating THE INHERITANCE Gay Men Strive For Generational Connection
"He thought of all the men who died in those years and what they might have become, what the world would look like today had they been allowed to end their story on their own terms. Eric wondered what his life would be like if he had not been robbed of a generation of mentors, of poets, of friends and, perhaps even lovers."
If you are not weeping as these words are uttered near the end of part one of Matthew Lopez's extraordinary saga of young, contemporary cisgender gay men dealing with missing pieces of their lives, The Inheritance, you will no doubt be hearing the sobs of others in the audience who are. That sound that will certainly increase as the act's devastatingly heartfelt conclusion is played out.
This loss of a legacy of guidance and experience offered from the preceding generation is just one of the meanings behind the title. Other inheritances, both literal and figurative, are weaved into roughly six and a half hours of drama and humor played in two parts that can be seen in one full day (about a two and a half hour break in between) or separately.
Though director Stephen Daldry's swiftly paced and engaging production originated overseas at The Young Vic, the setting is primarily New York City, between 2015 and 2018. However, the playwriting credit acknowledges the piece's inspiration to be English novelist E.M. Forster's 1910 review of social manners and conventions, "Howard's End."
As the audience enters, young men are mingling about the long flat platform that is set designer Bob Crowley's main playing space. At first, they sit around it as a table, each working on their own writing projects. One fellow, designated as Young Man 1 (Samuel H. Levine), is trying to get unblocked by seeking inspiration from his favorite novel (three guesses).
When Forster himself shows up offering assistance (appropriately plummy Paul Hilton), most of the young men agree that they find guidance, compassion, wisdom and humanity in the pages of the masterwork of a man who did not share their privilege of being legally allowed to live openly as themselves. When one complains that the world he depicted is so different from the world they live in now, the novelist advises them to look for the commonalities beyond the details.
Young Man 1 changes Forster's opening line, "One may as well begin with Helen's letters..." to "One may as well begin with Toby's voicemails...", and we're off.
Forster hangs around a bit more, offering his opinions as a story is set up involving Eric Glass (a warm, compassionate turn by Kyle Soller), who is being evicted from the rent controlled West End Avenue apartment first leased by his grandparents in 1947. (Expect to hear a huge gasp when it's revealed how much he's been paying per month.) At the moment, he's living with his partner Toby Darling (stylish whirlwind Andrew Burnap), a man described as having a "potential for greatness" and "a capacity for destruction."
Toby is the author of a popular young-adult novel titled "Loved Boy," which he's adapting into a play. Young Man 1 eventually steps into the story as both Adam, the actor who will star in it, and, in a lovely portrayal, Leo, a shy hustler who enters the picture.
Older players are added to the mix, such as gay Republican businessman Henry Wilcox (sturdy and confident John Benjamin Hickey) and Forster transforms into his longtime partner Walter Poole, who owns a house upstage which is significant for multiple historic reasons. They are fully illuminated when stage treasure Lois Smith enters near the end of part two.
The issues and conflicts that arise, particularly the generational ones, may find equivalents in any number of marginalized groups, but the passing on of numerous legacies involving an epidemic that was largely ignored by the country's leaders is naturally the focus.
While Lopez's major theme is conveyed through Forster's words "only connect" it is not a lesson all his protégés accept from him.
"You never told the truth about yourself so why the fuck should we listen to you now?" demands Toby.
"Because you now have the chance to be honest, which is something I was never given," the novelist answers.
This reviewer will not pretend to have the literary knowledge, nor the first-hand experience, to fully grasp and explain the various nuances that will be recognized by others who witness The Inheritance, but will vouch for the exhilarating emotional clout that's in store for empathetic outliers.