Karen and I saw *The Inheritance Part 2* on Broadway on 10/31/19. We were very disappointed in Part 1 the week before, but went into Part 2 on the one hand trying to keep our minds open but on the other hand determined to walk out if we didn’t like it. I had decided to stay at least until we saw Lois Smith, who did not appear in Part 1 and I had never seen onstage. And while author Matthew Lopez’s work was wildly uneven, there was enough promise to keep us in the experience.
It was better than Part 1, but I’m going to paraphrase/struggle to remember a Garson Kanin quote: I read it online about ten years ago, on an opera queen website, parterre.com, which I used to look at every day. The quote is from Kanin’s novel *Smash,* which was the basis for the TV series from a few years ago. The book is a roman à clef about Barbra Streisand and the stage production of *Funny Girl.* The way I remember it, one of the characters says to the director of the show, “You know, the show is getting better.” And the director says, “You can have a long time of Better before you get to Good.”
As in Part 1, it’s the writing that’s the problem. I’m happy to say it was richer in Part 2, not nearly as sitcom-y. It had sweetness, but it was the sweetness of honey rather than a ripe peach - - just plain sweet, not a lot of flavor. And it had depth, but the depth was only on the surface.
I should say something about director Stephen Daldry, who I didn’t mention in my review of Part 1. He did a very good job with less than stellar material. He magnified the good parts of the play (and there were enough of those) and masked the less than good parts. He directed the play with such confidence, I wonder if maybe he thought it was actually very good…?
Karen said this after the first act: “I like the characters I’m not supposed to like, and don’t like the characters I’m supposed to like.” John Benjamin Hickey gave the strongest performance of the play, as the very rich and older husband of the central character, Henry Wilcox, for those of you who know *Howards End* (*The Inheritance* is closely modeled after the E. M. Forster novel). Karen and I both thought he and Paul Hilton (who played E. M. Foster and Wilcox’s partner in Part 1) stood head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, and Karen hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that they’re both over 50 and the rest of the cast is somewhere around 30. It could be as simple as they’re just better, more seasoned actors.
But back to what Karen said about liking and not liking the characters - - there’s a scene in Part 1 when the central character, Eric, introduces Henry Wilcox to his group of friends. Wilcox is an extremely rich, older man, a Republican who (gasp) voted for Trump. Eric’s friends really tear Henry apart, and Henry’s gentlemanly but feeble response tells you which side the author is on.
There’s a lot more sex on Part 2. Karen used the word “gratuitous.” It was like a TV movie on Logo, and not in a good way.
I mentioned in my review of Part 1 that one of the frustrations of the play is that the actors narrate themselves. Like the actor playing Adam says, "Adam didn't know quite how to respond." It's tiresome, pointless, and distances the audience from the story. Karen made this point about a dramatic monologue in which Toby talks about a horrible experience in his childhood: "I found it so annoying and distracting, and really so unfair to the actor. It was like Lopez was trying to put a novel on stage, with characters alternating between their own voices and that of the omniscient narrator. I didn't like it throughout but it was most egregious in that speech, given the personal trauma being described."
Lois Smith was touching in her scene, but what a shame that she didn’t have better material. I hope I’ll get to see her in a better play. Samuel H. Levine was the standout of the young members of the cast, he played the double role of the two boyfriends of Toby, the other central character. His embodiment of those two characters was so well done, you instantly knew which character he was playing just from the way he moved. He was most impressive in the one short scene where the two characters talk to each other. He stood still and conveyed the two characters solely with his voice. It was pretty incredible.
The last act was sickening in its indulgence and aggravating in its blatant, derivative content. Not just *Howards End,* but also *Angels In America.* One of the key phrases of *Angels* is "More life." This show gave us "You live." There were many other rip-offs from *Angels.*
One of my favorite genres is what I call a Glorious Mess. *The Inheritance* isn’t quite good enough for that classification, it’s too much of a mess. But there were definitely extraordinary moments. I’m sure that *The Inheritance* will be nominated for the Best Play Tony, and it might win. I will see Lopez’s next play.