Paul Hilton standing, Kyle Soller, John Benjamin Hickey) Photo by Samuel H. Levine
It would be impossible not to be touched by Matthew Lopez’s play, “The Inheritance” unless you have a heart that is two sizes too small. The plot follows two generations of gay men living in post-AIDS Manhattan. We breathe their pain, feel their struggles, laugh with them, survive their passions and inhabit their culture and lifestyle.
Approximately seven hours long over two parts, you will see this not as an indulgent work, but a thorough telling of these mens’ stories set in a house that brought great healing. “The Inheritance” will have you in its grips from its first moment through its last.
In the play, we experience men of this era obsessing over closeted author, E.M. Forster (the fabulous and drool Paul Hilton). They are entranced with his 1910 novel Howards End and his homosexual novel Maurice. Forster appears to lead, hear and teach this movement of sexual liberation and merry band of men who play by their own rules. He continuously offers his wisdom and compassion.
In both the novel and the play, this man’s world feels intimate within a country farmhouse. Eric Glass (a steadfast Kyle Soller) lives in a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side with his narcissistic and promiscuous boyfriend, Toby Darling (a blazing Andrew Burnap). Toby, tormented by his childhood, has cultivated his life’s backstory and transformed it into a novel about his false persona. When Eric proposes, Toby says yes, but then his novel becomes a play. He directs his attention towards an obsession with the actor Adam (the intense and dazzling Samuel H. Levine), who stars as Toby’s version of himself in character. Toby breaks it off with Eric to be with Adam only to be ultimately rejected.
Toby, now alone, finds Leo (also played by the heartbreaking Levine), a boy for hire online, who looks just like Adam. Leo is so broke that his poverty, prostitution, and drug use leads to his contraction of AIDS.
Meanwhile, Eric cares for an ailing older gentleman, Walter Poole (also played by Hilton). During the AIDS crisis, Walter turned his home in upstate New York to a hospice where he tended to men afflicted with AIDS. His longtime companion, billionaire real estate developer Henry Wilcox (a cold and wonderful John Benjamin Hickey), was so repulsed by having these afflicted men in their home, he deeded the house to Walter. Upon Walter’s deathbed, he bequeathed the home to Eric. Henry and his two sons burn the note giving Walter’s instructions as to his true heir.
Henry and Eric spend time together and end up engaged. Henry is an unapologetic Republican and Trump donor who clashes, not just with Eric, but, also all of Eric’s liberal friends. This is by no means a match made in heaven.
Eric finally finds his path to the country house and in doing so brings to life the men who didn’t survive. The men learn their history, as do we. We meet Margaret (Lois Smith), the caretaker and mother of a son she turned her back on, who ended up in the house but left way too soon. Both Margaret and the ghosts of the past urge Eric to continue the saga. Henry knows this was Eric’s inheritance all along and the farmhouse is finally in its rightful hands.
Director Stephen Daldry’s (“The Crown”, Billy Elliot) masterful hand has taken Lopez’s powerful and simple play and cast a spell that will be hard to break. This play touched my heart and stayed with me for years.
The cast was handpicked for a whirlwind of emotions, a true powerhouse performance. Having lived through the AIDS crisis, I remember my own friends and acquaintances were here one day and gone the next. This play hit close to home and enlightened us with the humanity this era deserves.
I predict that “The Inheritance” will win the Pulitzer, the Tony for Best Play, the Drama Desk, The Outer Critic Circle and every other accolade on the map. It will be well deserved as this is a play that will live on.
The Inheritance: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W 47th St.