Quoting E.M. Forster Howards End, on which themes The Inheritance is based, “One may as well begin with…” With what? It is difficult to say where to begin with a play which, after rave reviews during its sold out run at The Young Vic Theatre, is now returned after a few months hiatus, for another successful and critically acclaimed run at Noel Coward Theatre. Your friendly-neighborhood writer here just watched it for the third time and is still overwhelmed by the variety of themes, the perfect balance between drama and comedy, the laughter followed by an heart-breaking moment while the audience fully empathizes.
The plot is a kaleidoscope of events and characters. The figure of writer Edward Morgan Forster comes as a mentor to inspire the writing of a young author. Then, we plunge within the story, meeting the characters: Eric (Kyle Soller) and Toby (Andrew Burnap) live together in a house they are going to lose. The first is a genuine but insecure guy, the second a narcissist playwright focused only on its work which reflects himself. They befriend a young actor Adam (Samuel H. Levine) who, gradually, manipulates the mind of Toby to get the leading role in his play. Meanwhile, Eric meets an older homosexual man, Walter (Paul Hilton, who also plays Forster) with whom become friend. Walter sees in the younger man the most fit person to continue the legacy of an old country house he and his companion Henry (Emmy-nominated John Benjamin Hickey) used as a refuge and which now is full of tragic memories…
This is just the beginning of a series of stories which run parallel, clash with each others and finally merge in an emotionally explosive ending which leaves the audience with a sense of communion with the show. Playwright Matthew Lopez got for the first time in touch with the work of E.M. Forster at a movie screening of Howards End. After reading his books, he started to meditate on the figure of a man who hid his homosexuality for all his life ( his revolutionary novel Maurice, written in 1914 was published posthumously only in 1971). The result is a deep excruciating reflection on being gay in contemporary America (the play is set also during the last political elections result) with the ghost of the epidemic of AIDS still haunting the lives of the protagonists.
The pace is so high and well-balanced that drama never becomes melodrama but chills out the eyes and feelings of a spectator thanks to a series of wonderful performances (Levine is memorable in playing both the ambitious Adam and the desperate tender prostitute Leo and the appearance of the glorious Vanessa Redgrave in the final act is a direct nod to the Ivory movie but also another moment of awe) and an heart-felt direction by Stephen Daldry (Oscar-nominated for another masterpiece mixing literature-past/present games and homosexuality, The Hours).
The Inheritance will run at Noel Coward Theatre until January 19. It is divided in two parts but it possible to watch them in their entirety on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And, yes, it is already one of the most important plays of the century and surely the most important for the current times.