By Leonard Feigenblatt
“The Inheritance” is based on the novel “Howard’s End” written by E.M. Forster in 1910. When the Ivory Merchant film adaptation staring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was released in 1992, playwright Matthew Lopez, then only a teenager, asked his mother to take him to see the movie, which left a profound impact.
“The movie just absolutely changed my whole teenage life,” said Lopez recently on a television talk show*. “I read the book … One of the things I realized later in life [was] that E.M. Forster was gay and closeted all his life, and that he wrote about things that were outside his experience because he couldn’t write about the own truths of his life.”
With that seed, Lopez took his favorite novel and updated it to the present day. He changed the characters from straight people from different social classes to gay men from three different generations, exploring what it means to be a gay man in the 21st century, and contributing his own life experiences growing up in the shadow of the AIDS crisis.
“The Inheritance” began at the Young Vic Theater in London in March 2018, and transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End in September 2018. Four American actors originated roles in the London productions and then moved to Broadway. Kyle Soller plays activist Eric Glass in a role that won him the 2019 Olivier Award and the 2019 Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a play. Andrew Burnap, who is making his Broadway acting debut, portrays Eric’s partner of seven years, the aspiring writer Toby Darling. Though Toby is self-absorbed and narcissistic, Burnap still makes him totally charming.
Tony Award winner John Benjamin Hickey brilliantly plays the successful billionaire Republican businessman Henry Wilcox. (Hickey is currently on a leave of absence from the production, as he is directing the Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, which will arrive on Broadway in the spring. During his absence, Tony Goldwyn has stepped into the role of Henry.)
Best of all, at the emotional center of the play, is Samuel H. Levine, who is making a stunning Broadway debut as Adam, the young actor starring in Toby’s play who Toby is obsessed with, and his doppelganger, the desperate, drug addicted hustler, Leo. He keeps both roles so separate and can switch from one role to another in a split second, without losing a beat. Levine is extremely intense and exudes a vulnerability that is exciting to watch.
Paul Hilton is the only British actor from the London productions to come to Broadway. He also plays two roles: Walter, the partner of Henry, and the E.M. Forster character, Morgan. The legendary character actress Lois Smith enters the action at the end of Part II, and is a wonderful addition to the cast.
Like the original Forster novel, this story also focuses on real property – Eric’s rent controlled apartment that he inherited from his grandmother, frequent references to our own Fire Island, as well as the house in upstate New York that Eric’s friend and mentor, Walter, used as a safe house for young men during the AIDS crisis.
“Perhaps the most important American play of the century so far,” Dominic Cavendish, the theater critic for London’s The Telegraph, said of “The Inheritance.”
It may well be. The play is equal parts hilarious, heartbreaking and poignant; it will make you laugh and cry and you will become so engrossed in the action that the six and a half hours is over before you know it.
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th St.
New York, NY 10036
*Quotes by Matthew Lopez included in this article have been transcribed from an interview on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” first aired on Jan. 10, 2020.
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