When first invited to review THE INHERITANCE, a six-hour (plus) play divided into two parts of three acts each, I was not sure if I could handle a marathon of this size. Was I ever wrong! Time literally flew by as the uber-talented cast of over a dozen kept every theater goer in the room glued to their seats. This is theater as it was meant to be – relevant, timely, fascinating, lively, emotional, intellectual, gripping, entertaining. Sad to say, magazine space does not permit more superlatives; but I am sure that the reader gets the idea.
Playwright Matthew Lopez was inspired by E. M. Forster’s novel, “Howards End” – and Morgan, a major character, is very close to a quasi-biographical depiction of E. M. Forster himself (full name Edward Morgan Forster). Forster conceived of the novel in 1908 and completed it in 1910. It was not until 1917 that he reportedly “came out of the closet “when he had a homosexual encounter with a wounded World War I soldier; however, he was open about being gay only with close friends – and definitely not with the general public. Remember that this novel was written over 100 years ago (even if Forster died in 1970 at the age of 91). For an author who dealt with social conventions, codes of conduct, and relationships at the turn of the century, Forster would have been very aware of the prejudices of the time. It was not until very recently that Matthew Lopez incorporated “Howards End” and flashes of Forster’s life story into THE INHERITANCE, which opened in 2018 in London (winning four Olivier Awards) and in 2019 on Broadway.
The overriding theme of THE INHERITANCE concerns the gay experience, especially during and after the AIDS era. But this play is so much more as it delves into each complex individual’s psyche and explores topics which are meaningful and important to all of us, gay or straight. Set in present-day Manhattan, Toby (Juan Castano) and Eric (Adam Kantor) are a happy, thriving gay couple living in Eric’s family’s precious rent-controlled apartment. Toby has written a play called “Loved Boy,” which purportedly celebrates his charmed childhood and adolescence. He is in the process of casting the main character when the couple meet Morgan (Bill Brochtrup), an older sophisticated man married to Henry Wilcox (Tuc Watkins), a business tycoon. At the same get-together, they also meet Adam (Bradley James Tejeda), a bright, well-heeled, and manipulative young man fated to star in Toby’s play – and in his life. Love and loss figure heavily in both Parts I and 2 of this epic drama.
In many ways, THE INHERITANCE feels like a soap opera which follows multiple characters through thick and thin – but again it is so much more. For sandwiched between events and often gut-wrenching situations are periods of profound soul-searching and questioning tapping into politics, social values, and the history of being gay in the shuttered American society of the past 100 years. All of this surrounding the inheritance – a huge, classic home in upper New York State owned by Morgan – who, sensing a kindred spirit in Eric – bequeaths him the house, secrets and all, in a hastily scrawled note to his husband as he lay dying. But Henry’s adult sons, sensing the possible loss of their inheritance, burn the note – and thus hangs the tale.
Part 2 focuses on the inheritance of the play title and how powerfully it impacts on the lives of everyone involved. There is Eric, who must acknowledge his own needs and wants and grow in self-knowledge. There is Henry, who must soften his reliance on wealth and power and allow compassion in. There is Leo (Bradley James Tejeda playing a dual role), a poor, undeveloped look-alike Adam, who must learn how to function effectively in the bigger society. There is Margaret Avery (Tantoo Cardinal), who finally accepted her dying AIDS-ridden son and now must offer love and solace to others. And, finally, there is Toby, who must grow or bring disaster upon himself and anyone close to him. In fact, each character has his own story.
Brilliantly directed by Mike Donahue, THE INHERITANCE has amassed the talents of so many in portraying this story. Kudos to every skilled cast member, each of whom makes his character pivotal and intriguing. THE INHERITANCE also harnesses the talents of a splendid production team. Jaimie Todd’s scenic design is clever and effective – never distracting the audience from the major issues – but also highlighting the camaraderie and affection the members feel for each other. Lighting (Josh Epstein), sound (Veronika Vorel), costumes (Sara Ryung Clement), fight director (Julie Ouellette), composer (Paul Englishby), and intimacy choreography (Amanda Rose Villarreal) – all deserve congratulations for their excellent work. And their ability to help dissolve the space between audience and actors. AUDIENCE ALERT: There is brief nudity in service of the plot.
THE INHERITANCE is definitely a must-see production. It is writing, talent, and strength personified and will provide a measure of theatrical excellence for years to come. And don’t worry about the length of the show. Time really does fly as the absorbing story catches and holds audience attention from beginning to end. For those familiar with “Howards End,” you’ll be intrigued by the parallels between novel and play. Again, don’t fail to see this production if at all possible.
THE INHERITANCE runs through November 27, 2022, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. ALERT: You must schedule Part I and Part 2 separately on two evenings/days. Each part is just over 3 hours in length. Additionally, the play is recommended for individuals 16 and over. The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse is located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $39 to $129. For information and reservations, call 310-208-2028 or go online (fees may apply).