Directed by Stephen Daldry and inspired by E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, “The Inheritance” was commissioned for Hartford Stage, and later produced at the Young Vic in London in March 2018, before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York.
The play is in two parts. Part one runs 3 hours 15 minutes. Part two runs 3 hours 10 minutes.
Is it the second coming of “Angels in America,” as some talking heads are proclaiming? No. Though it has the length and similar subject matter, it doesn’t have the existential quality, or the diversity of characters of Tony Kushner’s play.
Matthew Lopez’s script has some brilliant moments and its story is deeply moving at times, but due to its structure, its run time is way too long.
He does tackle the AIDS epidemic and the legacy that the gay community is passing down to the younger generation. He addresses the debate of prioritizing self versus society and who may be right or wrong when characters must decide what’s more important, self preservation or fighting for the greater good.
Sitting around a large table are a group of young gay men attending what is some sort of creative writing class with Morgan (Paul Hilton). It’s really E.M. Forster — Morgan was Forster’s middle name — who died in 1970. If you don’t think about it too much it makes more sense. He instructs a group of young gay men on storytelling.
One of them, Adam (Samuel H. Levine), begins to tell his story and the guys around him and Morgan assist by improvising and acting out the characters.
The story told is similar enough to Howard’s End at times that it doesn’t make much sense as to why this is Adam’s original story. The whole enactment of the story with the students playing out the characters, over explains motivations and shows a lack of faith in the audience to interpret intent by the characters. This ends up exposing the subtext and motivations of the characters losing the depth of drama and mystery that these characters could have. This also accounts for probably an hour of the nearly six-and-a-half-hour run time. “The Inheritance” can easily lose the entire schoolhouse element and the role playing by the ‘students’ and still have all the same powerful drama the rest of the play captures.
Plus, there are characters that suddenly appear that aren’t portrayed by the students. I can only assume that they are pure imagination by the boys in this class, but it isn’t explained and doesn’t fit the logic of the setting already established.
If you omit that glaringly problematic element of “The Inheritance,” it is an engrossing and beautifully moving loose adaptation of Howard’s End with a dash of “The Great Gatsby,” about the handing down of the legacy of gay culture from generation to generation.
Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) — the Margaret Schlegel analogue of the story — befriends an older gay man, Walter Poole (Hilton). As Walter’s health diminishes, he bequeaths his home several hours north of New York City to Eric much to the chagrin of Walter’s husband Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey) and his two sons. The Wilcoxes decide not to tell Eric about Walter’s last request.
The repercussions of these events create fallout for Eric and his boyfriend Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap) and between Eric and Henry.
There are solid performances by the cast, but it is Hilton who really shines and he’s mostly on stage only during Part one. His monologue in Act 2 about the plight of the gay community during the early 1980s and the AIDS epidemic is one of the great performances of the year.
Lopez can’t seem to get away from orations and it can become a little tedious. At least one character each act gets a moment to shine, and their performances are all excellent, but by the end of the sixth hour of the play there was a growing desire to want to wrap up the story. Then we end up with a monologue, this time by a brand new character.
There have been complaints from members of the gay community feeling there is a lack of diversity of gay men and that they aren’t being represented in “The Inheritance.” That may be true. There are a lot of attractive young men in this play and the identities of the secondary characters do feel underdeveloped for such a mammoth play. So there may be some legitimacy to their complaints.
Still, overall, “The Inheritance” is a beautiful play with a great cast. It’s a story about hope and trust and finding a way to heal when disease, literal and metaphorical, attempt to destroy them.
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 W. 47th St., New York
Production: Written by Matthew Lopez; Inspired by the novel “Howard’s End” by E.M. Forster; Directed by Stephen Daldry; Designed by Bob Crowley; Lighting Design by Jon Clark; Sound Design by Paul Arditti & Christopher Reid; Original Music by Paul Englishby
Show times: Part one: Evening: Thursday and Friday 7 p.m., Matinee: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday 1 p.m. Part two: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday 7 p.m.
Tickets: $39 to $349. Available online at www.telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, or at the box office
Reviewer Tim Leininger is a contributing writer from the Journal Inquirer