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Reviewed by:
  • The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez
  • Eric Jorgensen
THE INHERITANCE. By Matthew Lopez. Directed by Stephen Daldry. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City. January 8, 2020.

One may as well begin with waiting in line to enter the theatre. Volunteers for the Buttigieg campaign seeking signatures of New York voters to ensure Mayor Pete’s name on the primary ballot was a reminder of changed times for the LGBTQ+ community. The unplanned prelude was fitting for The Inheritance, which, at its best, gracefully managed to occupy today while breathing air from the past, reinvigorating a need to understand the opposition of generational time. The Inheritance is a new American AIDS play (it is many other things as well, but it certainly meets the epidemiological and cultural criteria). But while it is a new addition to that particular corpus of drama, The Inheritance is not The Normal Heart (1985) or Love! Valour! Compassion! (1994), although Matthew Lopez’s two-part, seven-hour play owes much to the dramatic voices of both Larry Kramer and Terrence McNally. And despite the frequent (perhaps unfair) comparison to Tony Kushner’s epic two-parter, The Inheritance stands on its own as a significant window into how a millennial outlook reconciles the livability and invisibility of HIV/AIDS in the current era of preventative treatments (PrEP) with a desire to occupy a place in the shared history of the pandemic—to embody the best and expose the worst of humanity, while coming to know what happened during the most devastating days of the plague.

Structurally, the inspiration for The Inheritance comes not from American AIDS plays, but from E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End. The participants in the relationship hexagon that propels the action of the play are mostly drawn directly from the novel’s characters. The play reimagines the Edwardian novel as the story of a group of gay men in New York City in the present day, all with a longing to either know or forget the 1980s and ’90s. Forster himself (joyously played by Paul Hilton) enters the scene to conduct a metatheatrical masterclass, as if to say that in order to know the past, one must first hear the voices of the still more distant past. A young writer (Samuel H. Levine) begins his story with Forster’s gentle prompting, “As you are now, a link in this chain of gay men teaching one another, loving one another, hurting one another, understanding one another.” And like the novel, the play’s story begins, “One may as well begin with . . .,” but here, “Toby’s voicemails to his boyfriend.”

Toby Darling and Eric Glass’s tenuous relationship fractures when one’s career booms and the other loses his family claim to Manhattan rent control (the excellent performances of Andrew Burnap and [End Page 101]

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Tony Goldwyn (Henry Wilcox) and Kyle Soller (Eric Glass) in The Inheritance. (Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2020.)

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The cast of The Inheritance. (Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2020.)

[End Page 102]

Kyle Soller guided these shallow plot beginnings to soulful depths). Alone, Eric builds a friendship with the ailing Walter Poole (Hilton again) in his final days. Eric listens to how Walter and Henry’s home upstate served as a sanctuary for dying men while Walter held the hands of friends (then acquaintances, then strangers) during their dying hours. Halfway through its seven-hour running time, The Inheritance cuts its most breathtakingly indelible moment of theatricality when innumerable ghosts of the past greeted the play’s moral center and accepted him into their midst, “Eric, welcome home.” With no curtain call for part 1, a stunned final silence (one longer than I have ever experienced) was broken by sobs from the audience.

Where the first part glides to its emotional height, part 2 is more labored in finding dramatic peaks; its rewards, however, are plenty. As the wealthy Henry Wilcox (the one character name unchanged from Forster’s original, solidly played by Tony Goldwyn), who grew rich while turning away from all signs of death and grief, invites Eric into his world...


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pp. 101-103
Launched on MUSE
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