Set a generation after the height of the AIDS crisis, The Inheritance looks at what it is like to be young and gay in New York. It explores love and legacy and what we owe to those that came before us.
At the heart of the work is the decent and caring Eric Glass (Charles Purcell), about to turn 33 when the play starts. It is 2015 and Glass, an activist, has been in a relationship with self-centred writer Toby Darling (Tomas Kantor) for seven years. Darling, who is flighty and had a troubled upbringing, is about to get his first, rather flimsy, play produced. Said to be autobiographical, it is, in fact, a “created truth”. We are introduced to Glass and Darling’s circumstances and their colourful, homosexual friends.
Into the fray steps a young, intelligent, affluent, wannabe actor, Adam McDowell (Karl Richmond), who surprises Darling with his gifted stagecraft. McDowell wants to fill the lead role in Darling’s play. As Darling spends increasing time away from home and with McDowell, his feelings for McDowell develop. Meanwhile, Glass befriends an older gay neighbour, Walter Poole (Dion Mills), who owns an historic country estate three hours from New York. Socially responsible, Poole felt compelled to help HIV-AIDS sufferers in their dying days in that safe place.
Poole has been with his partner, billionaire property developer Henry Wilcox (Hunter Perske), for 36 years. In time, Glass, too, gets much closer to Wilcox, who has two children – prats – from a previous marriage, both of whom work in his real estate business. As Darling’s fortunes wane, he finds himself attracted to Leo (Karl Richmond), a destitute teen who bears a striking similarity to Adam McDowell. Before this is over, all roads lead back to where Walter Poole helped dying AIDS patients at the peak of the pandemic.
The Inheritance was inspired by E.M. Forster’s (1st January 1879 – 7th June 1970) novel Howards End, published in 1910. Indeed, that book and other Forster works, such as Maurice, which was published after the author’s death, help drive the narrative. It is Forster, known here by his middle name, Morgan (Dion Mills), who acts as narrator in Part I of The Inheritance and reappears briefly in Part II. As an adept storyteller, he is prevailed upon by young gay boys, who have writers’ block, to tell their tale. In so doing, on more than the odd occasion, Forster adds creative tension.
The Inheritance is a sensitive, complex and heartfelt work, in which much happens. While the focus is on the characters’ lives and loves, it is also about the social, political and economic conditions prevalent at the time. First produced in London in 2018, theatrical excellence is its hallmark. Winner of the Olivier and Tony Awards for Best New Play and Best Play respectively, it is one of the most insightful works I have had the good fortune to see.
The writing, the performances and the direction are exemplary. It starts with the authenticity that writer Matthew Lopez brings to the fore. He is masterful. His understanding of how to bring raw emotion to bare in his prose is second to none. Humour, pathos and a fierce sexual drive are the work’s hallmarks. A team of 13 actors – 12 males and one female – bring the story to life, with director Kitan Petkovski adept at extracting the full impact of The Inheritance.
What stuck me immediately was the passion and conviction of the entire cast, who give their all through the entire six plus hours that the two parter runs for. Just like the play itself, they are bold and brilliant, led so adroitly by Mills, Richmond, Purcell and Kantor, but – as I just intimated – all shine. fortyfivedownstairs is to be commended for staging the Australian premiere of such a powerful and poignant work. It is playing there until 11th February, 2024. The full play can be seen in one day, on consecutive days or in consecutive weeks.
For bookings, go to https://fortyfivedownstairs.com