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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE INHERITANCE
at Barrymore Theatre

BIG QUESTIONS
By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ

  Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller and Andrew Burnap/ Ph: Marc Brenner

“Who are we? And more importantly, who will we become?” a young man asks about his gay community. 
 
The Inheritance, a drama about gay men in New York during the AIDS plague and the decades after it, reminds that a grasp on where you’ve been helps to see what’s up ahead. Now at the Barrymore Theatre following a London premiere last year, this sprawling work is the most remarkable and heart-shattering new play on Broadway in recent memory.
 
And it’s one of the longest. This whopper of a work by Matthew Lopez spans more than six hours and two parts. Comparisons to Tony Kushner’s landmark two-play prizewinner Angels in America are inevitable, but the main inspiration is Howards End. As in that 1910 novel by E.M. Forster, the topics of money, class, sex, complicated connections and the rightful heir to a charmed house loom large.

The on-off relationship of easy-to-like Eric (Kyle Soller) and self-obsessed Toby (Andrew Burnap), an author who’s rewritten his history, is at the core of the story. After seven happy years, they face a hitch – Eric loses his family’s fab rent-controlled apartment – and an itch – Toby falls for an actor, Adam (an ace Samuel H. Levine).

Eric finds comfort with his kindly older neighbor Walter (Paul Hilton), who opened his upstate home for AIDS-stricken men in the 80s and 90s when others, including his partner Henry (John Benjamin Hickey), turned their backs. Defying the odds and his liberal friends’ protests, Eric grows close to Henry, now a billionaire businessman – and a Republican. Toby, meanwhile, hooks up with Leo (Levine, again), a rentboy with a plot-twisting client list.

Lives collide. Relationships flame out, while others emerge. People turn out to be more than expected. (Looking at you, Leo.) The plot eventually leads to reckonings and back to Walter’s beloved rural house, where seventy-something Margaret (Lois Smith), a caretaker, still grieves for her son who died there long ago.

Lopez (The Whipping Man, The Legend of Georgia McBride) makes a quantum leap in ambition and depth. The script is smart, frank, unapologetically graphic, funny and moving. Toby describing a man as being like "a sheer curtain in front of an open window” is painterly poetry. Hilton, an English actor and this production’s MVP, makes Walter’s recollection of his devastating death watch a five-Kleenex knockout – and also shines as Forster, who’s on hand to lend advice and to link the distant past with the present.

Spare and eloquent, the staging by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott, The Hours) focuses squarely on his uniformly sterling ensemble. Designer Bob Crowley’s massive wooden rectangular platform subtly shape-shifts as the action moves from Upper West Side to Fire Island to rural New York and beyond.

Over six-plus hours there are lapses. Political debates can turn soapbox-y and windy, and character sum-ups at the end is a creaky device. Still, a play that asks “Who are we?” and makes one consider and care about the answer is doing something right. Actually, a lot right. 

 


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