H Levine, Kyle Soller, Andrew Burnap
by David Schultz
modern gay intergenerational riff on Howard’s End operatic in scope.
a soulmate in writer E.M. Forster was the furthest thing from a 16-year-old
kid’s mindset. But on what would prove to be a fortuitous life changing moment,
young Matthew Lopez joined his mother one afternoon to attend the film version
of Howard’s End in 1994. He was enthralled and captivated in a way that
he only later came to realize was to become a life changing event. He has been
quoted as saying that this film was as far as you could get from his life in
modern day Florida. A genteel mannered treatise on Edwardian manners and class
was not what he had ever experienced before in books or films. The novel became
something he came back to frequently and after some time had elapsed, he
discovered other books written by the author. Needless to say, Mr. Forster’s
secret gay romantic novel entitled Maurice, gave Matthew the key to his
connection. Forster, almost one hundred years ago also was a closeted gay man,
albeit this current century took an entirely different outlook on the gay
experience than what Mr. Forster experienced.
recent years Mr. Lopez has written some very distinctive plays but nothing he
has written previously could have given any inkling to this massive new work on
display. The Inheritance is split into two parts, each running over
three hours per section. The novel’s complex storyline is used as a skeletal
framing device for this modern update. If one has a passing knowledge of the
novel, has read it, or has seen the film, this masterful interweaving of plot
details and subtle references gain with each connection to its original source.
But even on its own this new work is a fascinating reworking of a classic novel
that is both extraordinarily expansive and intimate in its telling.
play begins as each young man causally saunters onto the large wooden plank
that encompasses the open space. Set designer Bob Crowley has given the
assembled actors a wooden spatial concept that one could construe as a life
raft, it gives the roaringly good cast an uncomplicated area to play out the
extraordinary events that will transpire as the work begins. The ever so casual
prologue sets up the entire scenario. How to tell one’s own story is the
catalyst to start the evening. All the young men seek a guide…
Forster himself, here named Morgan (Paul Hilton), Mr. Forster’s middle initial
natch. The young men slowly reveal themselves to each other and to the
audience. Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) who luckily inherited his Upper West Side
pre-war apartment from his grandparents is sadly being evicted from his coveted
abode since the landlords have taken control, and his time is up. Eric’s
flamboyant writer b.f. Toby Darling ( Andrew Burnap) is kept in the dark about
the impending event. While not being a spoiled brat on a good day, he is attempting
to adapt his moderately successful book into a play. In a teasingly knowing
wink to Forrester’s novel a misappropriated Strand Books bag ushers forth young
Adam (Samuel H. Levine), who, through a mutual friendship with Eric and Toby,
might be just the right actor to star in this budding new play that Toby has
sent off to various producers. Mr. Levine also doubles as a male hustler in the
play that is an important aspect of the tale and appears to be a sordid doppelganger
to Adam. Almost all the characters in the play are young 20-30 somethings. But
Eric has formed a deep friendship with an upstairs neighbor, gentle soulful
older gent Walter (Hilton yet again). Walter’s long-time chilly companion of 36
years is extremely wealthy businessman Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey).
Frequently out of town or traveling overseas, Henry and Walter rarely connect
on any significant level anymore. They both own a mystical house upstate that
Walter attempts to get Eric to visit. The house and its environs have, as the
play slowly reveals, a potent and tragic, yet transcendental history.
is just the outline of the work that opens up a veritable cornucopia of ideas
that constantly reverberate with the sense of history that always inhabit the
characters on display: Gay history, politics, decades ago and now, Sex, Truvada
treatments, HIV. Open relationships are carefully woven into the fabric of this
consistently absorbing work. The long shadow of the AIDS epidemic hangs over
the young men’s unspoken thoughts. The moments that open up with verbal arias
that seek to understand are graceful and moving. At one penultimate moment Eric
opines, then asks his fellow compatriots an unanswerable question “What was the
responsibility between gay men from one generation to another?”
the First Act of Part One reaches its climax the sublime aura attained in the
evening gently, then gut-wrenchingly hits the audience with a beautifully
rendered moment. The intensity of the accruing emotions is indelibly etched in
whomever sees this play. The heart-stopping dénouement of the first three hours
is at hand. As the audience staggers out of the theater, it would be hard to
fathom what comes into play in the second half.
next three hours are indeed involving, but the immersive storyline does lose a
bit of steam as it furthers the plotlines of Mr. Forster’s novel. Tweaking and
adding and excising various bits of plot lines as per this new vision demands
is somehow diminished. On senses that this six-plus hour drama might have been
better served as a one-night four-hour evening.
Smith and Samuel H Levine photos by Mathew Murphy
late in the play entrance of its only female character Margaret (Lois Smith)
makes a worthy appearance. In a relatively brief fifteen-minute monologue Ms.
Smith encapsulates the pain and suffering of her emotional experience and
exponentially the soul of the entire work expands outward.
Stephen Daldry has brought quite a few performers from its original London
premiere over the pond, and sprinkled in a wonderful assortment of American
actors to the debut here. He seamlessly keeps the evening afloat as he marshals
his company of 28 performers. The work has its emotional epiphanies as well as
its inevitable dry spots. On display are (not for the faint of heart) copious
amounts of nudity and raw language. All of which are perfectly appropriate
within the context of the evolving storyline. The deeply embedded ideas and
intricate architecture of the commingling of E.M. Forster’s iconic novel and Mr.
Lopez’s gay tinged inspiration is a fascinating evening of
at The Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street
212 239 6200 TheInheritancePlay.com