Karen and I saw *The Inheritance Part 1* on Broadway on 10/25/19. *The Inheritance* is a new two-part play by Matthew Lopez. It was a big hit in its London run, which is always a good sign, right? We read a profile of Lopez in the New Yorker - - I was fascinated by his life story and by how the play was inspired by E. M. Forster’s novel *Howards End.* The excerpts from the play were not so impressive, but I hoped that seeing them in context would be a different story.
*The Inheritance Part 1* is the story of about fifteen young-ish gay men in New York City, from the summer of 2015 to the spring of 2017.
Karen and I have been friends for over thirty years and have a lot in common. One of the things we share is a love of good writing. There were moments in the play that showed great ability and great promise - - a long monologue at the end of Act I was stunning, and showed that Lopez can really craft something extraordinary. The rest of the time it either felt like an article from The Advocate pushed onto the stage (my description) or an after school special (Karen’s description).
One technique was off-putting and coy: he often has the characters narrating themselves. Like the actor playing Adam would say, “Adam stood there and wondered how he was supposed to respond.” There was a lot of that and it never got any easier to take. The New Yorker profile seemed to imply that the *Howards End* connection was rather tenuous, but that certainly wasn’t the case. Karen knows the book much better than I do (she’s read it numerous times) and said that some of the references were word for word, some of the parallels were annoyingly exact. She found herself distracted by the exercise of watching for the references to the book and checking them off as they came along.
The audience seemed to be about 75% gay men over 50. Karen was tickled that there was a long line at the men’s room and immediate seating in the ladies’ room. How often does that happen. Clearly I was the target audience for this play, and in this case it wasn’t a good feeling. The swishy Latino gay man was an insulting stereotype. A lot of the talk about sex was salacious and pasted-on. An explicit monologue in Act II was written to be erotic and exciting but it was ruined by the idiotic choices of the character. He had an emotional breakdown, “How could I have done this?!?!” realization about two thirds of the way through it, and Karen and I spotted that bad decision in less than a minute. That’s insulting to the audience. The phrase I wrote in my notes was “bankrupt in its dramaturgy,” which sounds like gradspeak (something that would be said by a graduate student), but it gets my point across.
I don’t see how this could have been a critical smash and sell-out in London, I thought the London theatre-going public was smarter than that. Plus so many of the references to New York City (the gay bar Splash, SoHo House, the BAM Next Wave Festival) are so precise, I don’t see how the play could travel well at all. I also don’t feel like it’s going to age well.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing the great Lois Smith in a play for the first time. I guess she only appears in Part 2. There was NO woman in Part 1, not one. Even *The Normal Heart* was ONE female character.
My question, having seen this and *Slave Play* a few weeks ago: is Broadway really the place for these young playwrights to be learning their craft? Jeremy O. Harris (who wrote *Slave Play*) is 30, Matthew Lopez is just over 40. I like to see experimentation and risk in a Broadway play, but it’s not the place for amateurish writing.