I was lucky to see “The Inheritance” before Broadway theatres shuttered its doors on Thursday, March 12, 2020, the next day.
Playwright Matthew Lopez’s play, an import from London where it received an Oliver Award, is a “dramady” (part comedy, part drama) about gay culture now and in the time of AIDS. It was an ambitious play to use three generations of gay New Yorkers to explore class, income inequality, community, excessive drug usage, and HIV.
The play was almost seven hours in total: Parts I and II. Using the conceit of E.M. Forster, author of Howard’s End (1910), who was closeted, as a commentator to modern-day gays, giving them advice as they gather around a black box. Foster is criticized by a gay millennial writer Toby Darling who is out, but doesn’t want to expose his truth, is afraid of intimacy but not sex. In essence, the Southern Toby is a hypocrite and coward as well. Toby is a sycophant and is supported by a down-to-earth West Sider Eric who has inherited a large rent-controlled apartment and has the right credentials: Fieldston, Yale and an intact family. After seven years, Toby leaves Eric and has short-lived fame that goes down in flames as his drug usage increases.
Eric later meets an older gay guy in his elevator and eventually falls for him. Walter, and his then boyfriend, bought a house upstate where they could live in isolation from the plague (AIDS). While Walter’s Conservative boyfriend Henry looked at the house as a weekend getaway, Walter wanted it to be a terminus for all their friends who were AIDS patients, a hospice, if you will, in the country whereby they could be with others with the same disease and could be treated with compassion.
The number of housemates swells during the play as the actors walked down both aisles to the stage where the house, resembling a doll house, stood. Although the second act didn’t work as well for me; it was trying to wrap everything up: more health problems, lower wages of the gay community, sex workers, etc.
I’ve seen the Mother who loses her gay son and has to adjust to contemporary times in Terence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons.” (By the way, the playwright died last week). I’ve seen LGBT activist Larry Kramer’s “ The Normal Heart” about AIDS, and Tony Kushner’s “Angel in America” and I saw the 50th anniversary of Matt Crowley’s “The Boys In The Band” with its sardonic wit and homophobia, but I’ve never seen an audience react to a play like Lopez’s. The ticket buyers were all conversing after Part I.
The millennial gay male seated to my left was sniveling, but the older African American social worker from Las Vegas was actually wailing as the actors, who did double duty, walked down the aisle as AIDS patients. The latter remembers the plague of the 80’s when his friends died. The millennial, who didn’t experience the 80’s, and knows Truvada, PREP, and other anti-retrovirals that keep HIV at bay. His reaction was similar to others in the audience. It felt like a generation gap within the gay community.
The social worker and I remarked that we were both “spent.” But it was a great piece of theatre that got the audience talking. I’m glad I experienced it.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.