Review of The Inheritance at Tesseract Theatre

    The two parts of The Inheritance are long evenings of theater, but not slow ones. The epic play by Matthew López was spellbinding in the excellent production by The Tesseract Theatre Company.

    The play opens in the realm of the imagination, where several young men are “sitting around writing. Some in notebooks, some on laptops.” One of them addresses the audience. Speaking in the third person, Young Man 1 says he has a story to tell but doesn’t know how to begin. When he seeks inspiration from the first line of his favorite novel, its author appears onstage.

    The author is E. M. Forster, who is known in The Inheritance by his middle name, Morgan, as he was to his intimate friends. The novel is Howard’s End. The title page of The Inheritance says Howard’s End inspired the play, which depicts that inspiration. Morgan remains onstage, and the story is channeled through him. The audience is watching as the play is being written.

    Morgan is the principal narrator, but the other writers onstage take part in the storytelling as well as the story, which they step into as required. Some of the writers have more than one role.

    The story Young Man 1 wants to tell is not merely his own. It is the story of all the writers onstage—the generation of gay men for whom the AIDS crisis of the late 20th century is not a memory but something that happened years ago. They inherited their world from the generation that experienced the crisis.

    The central character is political activist Eric Glass. He lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in a spacious apartment that has been in his family for years. He can afford to live there only because the rent is controlled.  Like Margaret Schlegel in Howard’s End, Eric loses possession of the family home.

    Eric lives with Toby Darling, who is turning a novel he wrote into a play. Adam McDowell, an aspiring actor from a wealthy family, attracts Toby’s attention and uses it to obtain the leading part in the play. Leo is sex worker to whom Toby turns when he is pining for Adam. The script assigns the same actor to the parts of Adam, Leo, and Young Man 1.

    The characters just mentioned are young. The older generation is represented by billionaire Henry Wilcox and his partner, Walter Poole, who gets to know Eric while subletting an apartment Eric’s building.

    The play’s blend of narration and action is superbly realized under Stephen Peirick’s direction. The through line is never lost as the play depicts scenes of the gay life as lived by Eric’s generation. Sex is presented metaphorically in striking choreography. Tyson Cole was mesmerizing when he told Adam’s story of a sexual encounter in Prague.

    Perhaps the most moving scene in the Part One was the one in which Walter tells what it was like to live through the AIDS crisis. Alex C. Moore is riveting in this monologue. He plays Morgan as well as Walter.

    Eric and Toby’s relationship ends in Part One. So does Morgan’s role in telling the story. His limitations as a narrator are recognized in a remarkable scene near the end of Part One. The storytelling is different in Part Two. The Young Men tell their own story. Morgan appears only once, in a character’s imagination.

    Eric and Toby both start new relationships in Part Two, but their paths cross again in a surprising way. Eventually Eric finds his way to the place where he ought to be—Walter’s home in upstate New York, where he offered refuge for men with AIDS during the crisis. Margery Handy is deeply affecting when Margaret, the caretaker of the house, tells the story of how she came to be there. One character in Part Two meets a sad end that was foreshadowed in Part One, but the play as a whole reaches a uplifting conclusion.

    Cole and Moore were excellent throughout in their leading roles, as were Chris Kernan as Eric and Gabriel Paul as Toby. The entire cast maintained the same high level of performance. The following table alphabetically lists the actors and their roles.

    Tyson ColeYoung Man 1 / Adam / Leo
    Margery HandyMargaret
    Stephen HenleyYoung Man 5 / Charles Wilcox / Toby’s Agent
    Jonathan HeyHenry Wilcox
    Chris KernanEric Glass
    Donald KiddYoung Man 6 / Tristan
    Alex C. MooreMorgan (E. M. Forster) / Walter Poole
    Kevin O’BrienYoung Man 7 / Jasper
    Gabriel PaulToby Darling
    Jacob SchmidtYoung Man 4 / Young Walter / Tucker
    Sean SeifertYoung Man 3 / Young Henry
    Nic TaybornYoung Man 2 / Jason #1 / Doorman
    Kelvin UrdayYoung Man 8 / Jason #2

    The show benefited greatly from the environment created by Peirick’s scenic design, Tony Anselmo’s lighting, Jacob Baxley’s sound, and Mark Kelley’s dialect coaching.

    The Inheritance was a landmark achievement for both Tesseract and Peirick.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Florence Flick