The comparisons with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America are obvious; Matthew Lopez clearly had this 90’s theatre extravaganza at the back of his mind while writing this play, but the mood of this piece is very different. While Kushner’s play dealt with the AIDS crisis and its impact on the gay community of the 80’s, Lopez’s play deals with the aftermath: a generation of gay men dislocated from their heritage and history. The Inheritance, however, is less theatrical than Angels was; it relies less on spectacle and more on building nuanced, believable, and touching relationships between a collection of incredibly entertaining characters.
The first part concerns a group of young gay men attempting to tell their stories, unsure of where or how to begin they invoke the spirit of E.M.Forster to help them tell their tale. The result is a meta-theatrical piece in which the desires of the actor/characters are variably in line with, and at odds with, Forster’s narrative guidance. The story that they tell over the next seven hours is hilarious, heartbreaking and beautiful. It concerns a group of Manhattan-based young professionals navigating the landscape of the modern gay community and the trials and tribulations of modern day homosexual identity. There are, of course, the obligatory Grindr jokes and occasional campness; but this humour is underlain with an awareness of a weakened community, mired with the legacy of a plague that decimated their ability to thrive as a collective.
The performances were all sublime, but of particular note were (in no particular order): Samuel H Levine as Adam/Leo, flitting from absolute vulnerability to egomaniac in a heartbeat; Paul Hilton, also giving a masterclass in multirolling with an inspired depiction of E.M.Forster and also Walter the elderly neighbour, who gives a tragically beautiful monologue about the epidemic; Andrew Burnap as the flamboyant and troubled Toby Darling; and Kyle Soller as the insightful, caring and slightly neurotic Eric Glass.
Superbly Directed by Stephen Daldry, at no point in the theatrical marathon was I not entirely engaged with the show, its world, its characters and their stories. The show is full of symbols and conflicting ideas of politics, lifestyle and ethics which are expertly discussed and articulated by the characters and manage to always avoid being overly didactic. As well as big ideas being discussed throughout, the show is hilarious and also intensely emotional. I cried. I laughed. I laughed whilst crying.
The Inheritance is a play about the legacies we receive from those before us, and the legacy that we will leave for those after us; yet, it doesn’t just ask what those legacies are or should be, but also how do we leave them for the future and how do we hold on to those from our past?
The Inheritance is at the Young Vic until the 19th May.
Words, Oli Bates, @olijbates
Credit: The Young Vic