The Review: The Inheritance Part 1 & 2
By Gus Subero in London
Not many plays can be as divisive and as polar as the two parts that constitute Matthew Lopez’s new two-part, gay play The Inheritance. The play follows the lives of a group of late twenty something, gay men in New York City around of the time of the last US election. Focusing on the lives and tangent stories of two men; Toby an aspiring playwright and his boyfriend Eric who works as a committed social entrepreneur, the plays tries to dissect what it is to be a gay man in the US nowadays. The author has us think that these stories (and the actual lives they occupy) are in a constant process of writing and rewriting, as the actions are -especially in Part 1- mainly choreographed and reworked with the constant help and guidance by Howard End’s novelist E. M. Forster.
Unfortunately, here is where the play starts to falter. Lopez’s homage to the novelist seem at times unnecessary and contrived. It’s almost as if he wants us to know and drum home that he knows his gay writing icons and we should admire him for doing so. This excess of self-referentiality is what makes Part 1 a rather tedious exercise on canonic gay literature. Although the play is supposedly set in very recent years ( references to Obama and the last US election abound throughout), Lopez still sees the need to provide a kind of non-revisionist gay history that continues to see homosexuality and AIDS as intrinsically linked and, the latter, as a force that continues to shape the identity of gay men and of the worldview when it comes to them. As an HIV positive writer myself, I feel exasperated to see that almost no references are made to HIV positive men living long and fulfilled lives due to retroviral treatment or of gay men enjoying unprotected sex due to PReP. Instead, he falls back into prejudices tropes and commonplaces that see gay sex as dirty and inexplicably conducive to a certain death.
What is worst is that Part 1 of the play tries to elicit cheap tears/reactions from its audience by exploiting AIDS as “the gay plague” and those who died during the advent of the crisis in the 1980s and 90s as gay martyrs. I understand the importance of not forgetting our queer history and bringing this to younger audiences who don’t recall what it was like to be gay at the time. However, such historical episodes shouldn’t be used as cheap bait to move audiences to tears – special mention to the end of Part 1 that feels far too gimmicky and hagiographical, so as to convey the notion of a kind of last gay supper. Such was my disappointment of Part 1 that I seriously considered to not go back for Part 2 the next day; and what a mistake that would have been!
Part 2 most definitely redeems the whole play; it is poignant, well calibrated and for the most part avoids all the cheap tropes that make its predecessor feel like the work of an inexperienced playwright. Whereas Part 1 focused on AIDS as the fate of all gay men, Part 2 acknowledges some of the current generational nuances that may be experienced in the current gay scene. That is an older generation of gay men whose lives were and are shaped by the issues caused by the disease whose approach to sex and live diverges vastly from those of a PReP generation (although the play fails to make any direct references to the latter in a way that continues to reinforce negative stereotypes about gay men and sex). Yet, Part 2 has a much clearer direction for its narrative where the plight of gay millennials is much more concise and the play finally feels fresh and original. From providing a voice to republican gay men, to dealing with the struggle of gay men from ethnic minorities in Trump’s America, this second part balances rather well the political and the personal. The story of Eric and Toby is further advanced but this time from a very personal perspective that avoids the clichés found in the previous part.
What we get in Part 2 is a balanced portrayal of our “lifestyles” (not that we ever chose them as such) in ways that try to make sense of our sense of being and the way we lead our lives when torn between the hedonistic lifestyle of most gay men in the 90s and a younger generation that enjoys much greater social and civil liberties (and the right they encompass) but who have never been told how to love as a gay man, how to establish meaningful relationships as gay men, how to express your desires as a gay man (when such desires aren’t associated with promiscuity), how to be a gay family, how to be a gay lover or partner or husband. Thus this is where Part 2 thrives – by humanizing gay men and the queer culture in which we live. Granted, there are still references to canonic queer texts and figures, but this time they flow with the story rather than being self-conscious. Lopez has in his hands the potential to make this play a magnificent example of on-stage storytelling, but one that would greatly benefit from heavy editing and less self-referentiality.