While some ignorant millennials snipe “OK boomer” at anyone with a gray hair, a new play is clapping back. Its powerful take-away: Instead of saying “OK boomer” to a gay New Yorker who survived the AIDS epidemic, try “thank you.”
But “The Inheritance,” which opened on Broadway Sunday night after an acclaimed run in London, isn’t interested in starting a Twitter war. Matthew Lopez’s empathetic drama is simply — well, not so simply — a moving call for an intergenerational conversation, using a tale of modern-day, young gay men whose lives collide with that of their older peers. It’s also a very long one, with two separate parts, each running more than three hours. Luckily, there are three nearby Starbucks you can reach during intermissions.
In a show that’s as lengthly as a flight to Europe, there’s going to be a lot of plot. But thanks to director Stephen Daldry’s sprint of a staging, which sets the play on an elegant, bright wooden platform, “The Inheritance” clips along.
What unfolds (and unfolds, and unfolds) is the story of 30-somethings Toby (Andrew Burnap), a high-energy playwright on the verge of Broadway success, and Eric (Kyle Soller), his more grounded, kinder boyfriend of eight years.
While Toby clings to booze and sex, Eric befriends their much older neighbor, Walter (Paul Hilton), who leaves his home in upstate New York to Eric in his will. It was on that serene property where, in decades past, Walter selflessly cared for young men dying of AIDS.
But Walter’s conservative widower, Henry (John Benjamin Hickey), keeps the inheritance a secret from Eric, wanting the estate for his own sons from a previous marriage. By now, Eric has split from Toby, and he and Henry form a relationship of their own, adding a political edge to the play as liberal Eric dates a seasoned, wealthy Republican.
The first part takes a while to click in. The use of author E.M. Forster as a narrator, the ensemble chirpily finishing each others’ sentences and the abundance of graphic sex-talk can grow cloying. The play finds its soul near the end of the first portion, which is a well-earned tearjerker.
To reveal much of Part 2 would rob the drama of its suspense. As the story moves forward, the 15 actors embody a clown car of different characters. The most heart-wrenching are Adam, an actor Toby falls in love with, and Leo, a male escort who’s a dead ringer for Adam. Both men are played by Samuel Levine, who, as Leo, gives a moving and truthful performance of someone in immense pain.
Burnap makes a memorably eccentric Toby, an artist who falls apart and could have been ripped from one of Patricia Highsmith’s thrillers. Think of him as the Talented Mr. Toby.
The better half is Part 2, which finally brings the heat and anguish. In the show’s gutsiest moment, Henry is eloquent arguing in favor of his Republican politics in a room full of wine-glugging millennials, when a young man goes, “But other gay men your age . . .” Without taking a breath, a ferocious Henry yells, “THERE ARE NO GAY MEN MY AGE.” Shattering.
So is a touching speech from the wonderful Lois Smith. In one devastating passage, she describes reuniting with her gay son on his deathbed, and how, in the years since, she’s tried to make amends. It’s in this part that the second meaning of the title comes into view: the learned responsibility these men inherit to care for each other in their greatest time of need.
Sure, “The Inheritance” has its flaws. Plenty of them. But it’s promising to see, during a glut of overly academic plays, something that’s written totally from the heart.
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