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‘Camelot’ Revival at Lincoln Center, Superbly Re-imagined for Our Time

Phillipa Soo (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus.j
Phillipa Soo (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus.j

The original 1958 musical Camelot. performed with Alan Jay Lerner’s book and lyrics, and Frederick Loewe’s music, adapts theArthurian legend from T.H. White’s collection of fantasy novels entitled Once and Future King (1958). White’s adaptation was loosely based on the 1485 work Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. Aaron Sorkin’s book updates the musical and puts an interesting spin on the events of legend, heightening the characters and shifting the emphasis to King Arthur, superbly portrayed by Andrew Burnap (Inheritance). As a result, Sorkin diminishes the love affair between Phillipa Soo’s Queen Guenevere (Hamilton) and Jordan Donica’s Lancelot du Lac (My Fair Lady), aligning it more with romantic tradition which fails. With outstanding set design and fine direction by Bartlett Sher, Camelot is a stunning revival of symbolic political moment, currently running at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont until September.

At the top of the play Sorkin introduces us to one of the most important aspects of Arthur’s kingdom, the feudalistic power structure and Arthur’s previous isolation from it. Before we even meet Arthur, we meet the lords who serve the king and make up his court, as well as Merlin (Dakin Matthews), Arthur’s counselor, whose wizardry is seen through his balanced demeanor, wisdom, erudition, time transcendence, foreknowledge and keen ability to redirect the perspectives of less enlightened individuals.

Tasked to meet Arthur’s bride-to-be at the top of the hill near the castle, the lords exclaim that her carriage is at the bottom of the hill. We note Merlin’s attributes in his initial discourse with these three knights, Dinadan (Anthony Michael Lopez), Lionel (Danny Wolohan), and Sagramore (Fergie Philippe), who rant that the Guenevere’s carriage has gone against tradition, as they watch her disembark from her carriage far away from them. This change in tradition upsets them, until Merlin uses gentle wisdom to calm their responses and show them they can merely change the law to update tradition. This exchange among the knights and Merlin indicates the conflict to come, tradition vs. progress. The knights’ acceptance of Arthur’s changes is paramount to Camelot’s success.

Phillip Soo, Andrew Burnap in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
Phillip Soo, Andrew Burnap in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

The ruling elites are conservative traditionalists. But Merlin handles them easily and emphasizes the power of laws to change useless, outmoded ways of being. These men have power and influence over an unequal class system, institutionalized by feudalism (the peasants who serve and the lords who protect and luxuriate over them). Arthur must step around them and gain their trust to overturn traditions which have harmed and caused wars and bloodshed.

Not a member of the royal class per se, Arthur must navigate the knights’ entrenched power with wisdom, if he is to rule his kingdom well and remain effective. This not only requires steadfast courage and acute psychological and personal skills, it demands a political philosophy and will to unite the lords and prevent division. Additionally, training and counsel from Merlin, whose extraordinary gifts of wisdom provide a broader, endowed perspective and understanding, are a boon.

Andrew Burnap in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
Andrew Burnap in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

In Sorkin’s different spin of Merlin, we understand that the time has been stepped up one hundred years, so that the medieval age is coming to a close, and Arthur is pushing his kingdom in the direction of the Enlightenment with the help of Merlin. Unfortunately, Merlin’s assistance remains all too brief. After his death, he is replaced by one of the oldest knights in the kingdom, Pellinore, also portrayed by Dakin Matthews, who Guenevere invites in to their circle.

Sorkin advances Arthur’s human graces, contrasting them with the backward knights of his time, who he must manipulate against their own stupidity, which manifests in Act II, encouraged by Mordred (Taylor Trensch) in “Fie on Goodness.” Arthur is not a royal in arrogance, presumption or privilege. He is a people person, decent, kind, likeable and extraordinarily generous. He is more like a Christ-like figure, who forgives Guenevere and Lancelot’s “treason,” and refuses to brutally punish them for their lack of faithfulness.

 (L to R): Danny Wolohan, Anthony Michael Lopez, Fergie Philippe, and Dakin Matthews in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
(L to R): Danny Wolohan, Anthony Michael Lopez, Fergie Philippe, and Dakin Matthews in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

He invites his son Mordred into his circle, as a reconciliation for his past abandonment, which his mother caused by refusing Arthur’s pleas for her to come and live in the castle. He announces to the kingdom that Mordred is his out-of-wedlock son who is being treated equally like everyone else and has the opportunity to learn and become a knight, if he wishes. But Mordred refuses to listen to Arthur’s explanations why he is not with Morgan le Fey (Marilee Talkington), and he gives lip service to Arthur’s largesse. Instead, Mordred manufactures his own victimization and weaponizes it against his father. Indeed, as the villain, Mordred exploits Arthur’s kindness and love. In his wicked world, these traits are a weakness to set up Arthur’s downfall (“The Seven Deadly Virtues”).

Especially in the characterization of Arthur, Sorkin presents the idealization of a king whose humility, love, intelligence, forgiving nature, and equanimity is all that the Enlightenment promises. Unfortunately, Arthur is a man out of his time, more an influence for future generations in inspired legends and stories of his exploits, frailty and kindness, which can guide by example to bring hope and light to others. Though his reign and Camelot only lasted for for a brief time, the antithesis of the stability and “happy ever aftering” Arthur and Guenevere sing about in the beginning (“Camelot”), is mythic. All individuals, even the current day audience can aspire to Arthur’s ideals of a place of congeniality for persons great and small.

 Andrew Burnap (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan
Andrew Burnap (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Each of the characters we see immersed in feudalism are lesser in nature, greedy for power, brutal, judgmental, calculating and self-absorbed. In the dialogue to some of the songs, we note Sorkin cleverly magnifies this. For example in the ironic “Simple Joys of Maidenhood” that Guenevere sings about wanting knights to die and sacrifice themselves for her love, Arthur brings up the notion that this isn’t much fun for the knights. Not only is Guenevere naive, she is brutal in her unrealistic romanticism, a clue to the source of her treachery with Lancelot, spawned from her privileged background. Indeed, the same knights that would kill for her, would just as soon end her “maidenhood,” in a rape, which Arthur seems to note in his ironic comment, but Guenevere conveniently ignores.

Guenevere is a traditionalist in all of her “modernity.” A spouse by arranged marriage to prevent war between England and France, she is born of royalty and has the presumption, lack of humility, and fieriness to prove it. Her expectations are royal, and she doesn’t understand Arthur’s personality and hoped for kingdom. Initially, she presumes Arthur will behave according to the traditions of kings, like her father. Kings are sexually promiscuous. They treat women as objects for their pleasure; they make demands on them, requiring they be passive creatures without individuality or autonomy.

That Arthur doesn’t have women at his sexual disposal at court, and expresses belief in the fidelity of marriage is a striking and revelatory contrast. Additionally, he fosters the novel idea they must prevent fighting, war, bloodshed, abuse of the lower classes and women. Remarkably, he gladly accepts her input of ideas. It is during their discussions that the “knights of the round table” come into being. In this acceptance of Guenevere as his ruling partner, he reveals that he is dynamically striding toward enlightened governance.

Jordan Donica in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
Jordan Donica in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Appealing to her better nature constantly, Arthur trusts her with Lancelot. Ignoring her suggestion, he refuses to expel the narcissistic knight from the kingdom, before they have their momentary affair, which Mordred has “encouraged,” unbeknownst to Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot. Above all, Arthur provides her with freedom and power to rule with him. This is unlike anything that is supposed to happen to a female royal anywhere. And in the musical’s memorable signature song, he imagines his vision of Camelot in order to engage her to want to be Queen, and woo her, before she knows his identity.

In retrospect, at the conclusion of the musical, we learn it is his intentions of good will toward her that prompts Guenevere to fall in love with him early on. However, since both of them are unpracticed at love, they never express it to each other. It is one of Arthur’s chief weaknesses of pride. Ironically, he fails at his own express thoughts in “How to Handle a Women,” and doesn’t love her, so that she understands his love, understands that his freedom and trust in her are love, decency and generosity in the Arthurian time of patriarchy on steroids. She is still stuck in the romantic notion of love, reinforced by her ladies in waiting, who push romantic tradition on her to her detriment.

Sorkin’s book is deeper and more complex than the original musical, so that before each song, one must catch the nuance. For example the humorous repartee before and after the song, “Camelot,” works beautifully and heightens the ironic, fantastical lyrics, symbolizing the fickleness of the place in its hyperbole, “The snow may never slush upon the hillside, by 9 P.M. the moonlight must appear.” In expressing his metaphor, Arthur encourages Guenevere to realize he is unlike royalty, and his kingdom and reign with her will be unique, maverick, loving. The tragedy is that the depth of their love is unrealized and misunderstood. Guevenere, entrapped by the tradition of her place and status, and Arthur overwhelmed by his sense of inferiority to express his feelings to her, contribute to the fall of the kingdom.

(L to R): Phillipa Soo, Andrew Burnap, Jordan Donica and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
(L to R): Phillipa Soo, Andrew Burnap, Jordan Donica and company in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

An express, underlying irony is that Arthur’s view and behavior toward women is even more forward thinking than many in the US South today, and especially some of the GOP political party antithetical to equanimity between women and men. Thus, Arthur is not only schooling Guenevere about equanimity and generosity as love, he is also reminding the audience of the beauty of such an approach between men and women for our own time.

Of course, this is legend, and it is hard to come by in reality, which makes the final exchange between Arthur and Guenevere, and their relationship, all the more poignant and tragic. In a failure of her character and bondage to her identity, Guenevere is too late to recognize and receive Arthur’s love and freedom to express it. Instead, she opts out for fleeting passion which is another form of bondage, and is the antithesis of freedom. It is why she regrets her affair with Lancelot, does not run off with him, but goes to a convent. The rest of her life she does penance for contributing to his death, Lancelot’s death, and the destruction of the kingdom.

lee Talkington in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
Taylor Trensch, Marilee Talkington in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Phillipa Soo and Andrew Burnap are perfectly cast in their respective roles and are simply smashing in voice, authenticity and aura, making us empathize with their characters who are victims of their own frailties. Burnap, especially at the conclusion, coalesces the poignant tragedy that Arthur’s dreams are broken, and that by a combination of rotten timing, privileged selfishness (by royals Lancelot and Guenevere), bitterness and resentment by an ungrateful Mordred, he is undone and must pay the forfeit with his death.

Jordan Danica’s Lancelot is both funny and dangerous, for we know what is coming when his resistance to Guenevere “protests too much” in selfishness. The right way to serve King Arthur would to leave and escape his lust, which he can’t because of his own self-betrayal. The bedroom scene is perfectly directed to suggest the thrill of passion, but not love. It is appropriate that their “aftermath” falls flat in disgrace, as they realize the import of what they’ve done. Sadly, as the pawns of Mordred, they’ve betrayed their king, and the golden idea which elevated their lives and the kingdom. Interestingly, Donica’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” indicates he can’t leave because of how she “looks” in the changing seasons. If he really loved her, not the image of her and him together, he would have left the moment he sensed the attraction to save her and himself. So much for his boasted purity. To insure his leaving, he would have been truthful with King Arthur. Donica’s voice and interpretation of that song in particular are non pareil, just fantastic.

(L to R): Jordan Donica, Phillipa Soo (background), Andrew Burnap and the company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
(L to R): Jordan Donica, Phillipa Soo (background), Andrew Burnap and the company in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

Sorkin mitigates the “magical” in this Camelot update, palatably. For example it is suggested Arthur is able to pull the sword Excalibur out of the stone because previously, ten thousand men loosened it. Lancelot’s “resurrection” of Arthur occurs because he was just knocked unconscious and not killed. No miracle occurred. Arthur’s characterization is a forerunner of the rational man of the Enlightenment, when Europe will experience many transformations. Then, rigorous scientific, political and philosophical ideas burgeon in the society with the rise of the middle class. In his approach to ruling his kingdom, Arthur is bold to overthrow the most noxious elements of feudalism to bring ideals of equanimity, peace and honor that “might for right” and “justice for all” are the better way.

The thoughtful production has humor, vibrance and poignance. The treachery and resentment of unforgiving Mordred (the fine Taylor Trensch), who helps explode the Camelot ideals of equanimity, peace and honor are a potent reminder that such a “heaven on earth” is impossible because of human fallibility. Thematically, the musical warns us that only in the aspirations of future generations, represented by Camden McKinnon’s Tom of Warwick, may that possibility become reality in limited circumstances.

In the meantime, hope must be kept alive for a time when such dreams are possible. Realistically, all the characters fall from their own grace. It happens with the best of individuals, who cannot govern their own passions, and with the worst who rebel against a more perfect order for the sake of power. Sorkin reminds us in this complex re-imagining that most important is the striving for equity and equilibrium, not the achievement of it, which in itself is too fantastic to sustain. In the striving is the learning and revelation which is priceless. As such they provide the way for the hope of tomorrow, arriving at democratic polity hundreds of years in the future: i.e. a democratic Ukraine in the face of genocidal aggression by Russia, a democratic United States in practice not in lip service.

 Jordan Donica, Phillip Soo in Lincoln Center Theater's production of 'Camelot' (courtesy of Joan Marcus)
Jordan Donica, Phillip Soo in Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Camelot (courtesy of Joan Marcus)

The sets by Michael Yeargan are suggestive, stylized, minimalist and symbolic, perfect for scene changes to the castle, Arthur’s study, a maypole dance, the tournament and more. Noted the black tree on stage never blossoms or has leaves, regardless of season. At one point the projection of the beautiful Camelot is seen in the distance. However, the tree does have leaves on the program cover as a figure peers out from its branches, and we, like him, wait for a “more perfect union,” and peace, justice and equity for all.

Jennifer Moeller’s costumes are richly appropriate and gorgeous. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting design, Marc Salzberg & Beth Lake’s sound design, Cookie Jordan’s hair & wig design cohere to manifest Bartlett Sher’s vision. Projections by 59 Productions are, as usual, marvelous.

I had forgotten how lyrical, memorable and powerfully touching are Lerner and Loewe’s songs and music. “Guenevere” is heartbreaking. Special recognition goes to Kimberly Grigsby’s music direction which does justice to the score. Noted are the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett & Phillip J. Lang, and dance & choral arrangements by Trude Rittmann. These artists, no longer with us, had a prodigious history of creating the beauty of Broadway (Bennett over 300 productions, Lang and Rittmann over 50 productions). Byron Easley’s choreography is energetic in “The Lusty Month of May.” B.H. Barry’s fight direction and the staging/choreography of swordfights of Lancelot proving his mettle with the three knights and Arthur, appear as dangerous as the crashing blades sound.

Camelot runs with one intermission. Every minute is worth seeing. Don’r believe some of the critics. Judge for yourself. For tickets and times at the Vivian Beaumont go to their website

‘The Inheritance,’ Inspired by E.M. Forester’s ‘Howard’s End’ a Chronicle of Gay Life, Poignant, Humorously Ironic, Triumphant

Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller, Kyle harris, Arturo Luis Soria, JOrdan Barbour, Daryl Gene Daughtry Jr.

(L to R): Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller, Kyle Harris, Arturo Luis Soria, JOrdan Barbour, (foreground) Daryl Gene Daughtry Jr. in ‘The Inheritance,’ Part I, Part II, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by E.M. Forester’s ‘Howard’s End,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, design by Bob Crowley (Matthew Murphy)

How does one tell one’s story digging out the mired treasure amidst the refuse of time, personalities, relationships squandered, brilliant aphorisms and droplets of wisdom tossed away unheeded? Indeed! As most people end up doing, you don’t tell it; you live it and consign it to memory fragments which may become obliterated by dementia or Alzheimer’s. Or you move it into imagination realized, accessing a work of fiction as your inspiration and using a parallel plot platform to guide you.

Additionally, if you elicit the help of the spiritual consciousness of E. M. Forester as your literary muse employing Howard’s End as the fulcrum of evolving social mores in turn-of-the-century England (to mimic late 20th-century America) you will do as the ingenious Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man, The Legend of Georgia McBride) did. You will write a masterwork. For Lopez is it The Inheritance. And if you are fortunate to premiere your play at London’s Young Vic with an exciting, prodigiously talented cast, it just may transfer successfully to Broadway a year later because of its sterling, award-winning particularity and emotional poignancy; this despite a few expositional plot convolutions and character snags.

The intriguing convention of materializing E.M. Forester as a professor who surfs the crest of wisdom’s waves into the shoreline consciousness of a cadre of gay writers (clever opening scene) is one of the high-points of Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance, proudly unleashing its almost seven hours, four acts and large cast at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

In Lopez’s work Forester, is known by his middle name Morgan. Brilliantly portrayed by Paul Hilton, as the sensitive, focused and refined gentleman gay writer who hung in the shadows of respectability and didn’t “indulge” ’til his thirties, Hilton balances just enough loving instruction in shepherding the writers, and specifically Leo (Samuel L. Levine) in how to write their stories with sage advice exemplified in his novel. As he steers them in dramatic directions, they configure plot elements and “act” the characters in Leo’s story. Additionally, Hilton’s performance of Forester doubling as Henry Wilcox’ thirty-five year love interest Walter Poole is, bar none, glorious. John Benjamin Hickey as Wilcox is his fine counterpart.

(L to R): Jordan Barbour, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Kyle Soller, Arturo Luis Soria, Kyle Harris, The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley

(L to R): Jordan Barbour, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Kyle Soller, Arturo Luis Soria, Kyle Harris, The Inheritance,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, designed by Bob Crowley, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by the novel ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster (Matthew Murphy)

Actually, the role of Forester could have been extended. Some of the business representing the cadre’s snide, material, mimed psycho-sexual behaviors and gay bitchiness in their choral presentments could have been shaved to fine points of crystal clarity without losing context or meaning. These changes may have enhanced thematic textures. Left as is, the cadre’s force is diluted and the staged movements of mimed sex which might have been acutely rendered as a dance are merely a  humorous contrast to the deeper relationships in the play as well as a privileged indulgence since sexual hedonism isn’t a problem in 2018 with drugs like Truvada, PrEP and DESCOVY®. However, this superficializes the characters who are unnecessarily demeaned in what appears to be their gratuitous behavior, when they are far better than narcissistic overlords of themselves and each other.

As Forester guides his charges into how to extract the seminal moments of the story of their lives, we meet the key players who portray the protagonists and antagonists. Ironically, with authorial deification these players also get to comment on their character’s choices and the direction of their lives. Thus, in a wonderful twist, Lopez has the characters live and have their being while choosing their actions as they help Leo realize the most dramatic elements of the story.

The most humorous and finely realized manifestation of this occurs with the character of Toby Darling (the gobsmacking Andrew Burnap) whose seven year relationship with Eric crashes and burns mostly because he undoes it with careless abandon. Burnap adroitly, prodigiously walks the Toby tightrope. Representatively, Burnap’s supercharged Toby is the gay everyman of the previous generation before the AIDS epidemic: a cavalier, “full-of-himself,” gorgeous, sizzling, sexual powder-keg who masks the bleeding, soul raw, emotional victim of his own despairing gayness that writhes within.

The cast of The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley

The cast of ‘The Inheritance,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, designed by Bob Crowley, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by the novel ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster (Matthew Murphy)

Also, Lopez’s characterization of Toby as the successful novelist-cum Broadway playwright whose work will be made into a film, shines in a quaint “theater of the absurd” trope. Toby is the epitome of the actor searching for a character, massaging and sometimes insistently demanding the writing cadre, Forester and lead author-Leo do what he wishes. The outraged humor Burnap engenders as he attempts to write himself into a finer presentation and less painful destiny is wonderful. That he fails to influence Leo and the others to give him what he wants by the conclusion of the production is poignant, stark and even more wonderful.

His is an end which has no spiritual return because he optimizes his final choice and upends our expectations that he will die of AIDS. Lopez’s irony of and about Toby Darling is acute. As he declines, Leo ascends to a greater success, topping Toby’s spurious, specious novel (which Toby accuses himself of writing) with a powerful, truthful authenticity.

This is one of the many twists upon twists that Lopez effects that eventually is swallowed up by the themes and curiosity of paralleling Howard’s End and revealing how the cadre helps Leo tell the story of his complicated and amazing Horatio Alger-like rise. It is an evolution whose possibilities Leo inherited from the sacrifice of others who had gone before him in a long succession of gays shamed and ostracized. Lopez has his writers discuss Forester’s internalization of shame as they allude to gays of previous generations, who like Forester, had to hide in the shadows of oppression because of the social opprobrium and stench of perversion that branded gay men with the red letter F for faggot, a word that is still used to bludgeon gays today in various areas of our nation.

John Benjamin Hickey, Kyle Soller, Arturo Luis Soria, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Dylan Frederick, Kyle Harris, The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley

John Benjamin Hickey, Kyle Soller, Arturo Luis Soria, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Dylan Frederik, Kyle Harris in ‘The Inheritance,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, designed by Bob Crowley, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by the novel ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster (Matthew Murphy)

Homosexuality was an anathema that spawned abuse, brutalization and murder until it was answered for all time by the 1969 riots at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Forester who never “came out” publicly to stand for the cause as he could have, died a year after Stonewall. He never submitted his one novel about same-sex love for publication because such love was verboten. Forester deemed Maurice not “worth” publishing for the hell it would bring him, though clearly, it would have helped thousands come to grip with their own traumatized feelings.

Interestingly, as the writer cadre discusses this, they accuse Forester of cowardice. He avers, but he, too, is a part of the inheritance that burgeons today. The Stonewallers who fomented that iconic, historic event symbolically stood for gays globally; all benefited as the gay rights movement began its march into the future light of social acceptance. And Forester’s Maurice was published in 1971, within a mere year and one-half after Stonewall.

Gradually, Lopez’s characters unravel their storied relationships and relate how the previous generation’s sacrifice paved the way for their current oblivion enjoying their Lotus-Land sense of privilege and freedom from the ponderous, fearful irrevocable death-filled virus which Lopez’s characters quaintly refer to in the past tense as “the plague” and the “war.” Their nonchalant twitting jokes and discussion about “Camp” rise to high-turned humor. Is that all there is to discuss?

With gay marriage made legal, there are very few hurdles that remain left for the gay community who are free, in most cities globally, to be whom they please. The problem is, they must reconcile themselves with the past which always looms its insanity into the present. Toby is a prime example of how, regardless of the external strides the culture makes, freedom also originates from within; we must conquer ourselves conjointly as we battle the prejudices, discrimination and hatred of individuals we may meet in society.

Paul Hilton, The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley

Paul Hilton in ‘The Inheritance,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, designed by Bob Crowley, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by the novel ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster (Matthew Murphy)

In keeping with this truism/theme of the play, we note Toby’s mismatched relationship with Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) a social activist who understands the full doom of Trump’s win and how it will impact every current policy from health care to the Paris Climate Accord to gay rights. While Toby basks in the fame of his novel’s success then prepares for the opening of his play on Broadway, he slowly disintegrates eaten inside out from trying to keep his lies suppressed. Meanwhile, Eric Glass befriends upstairs neighbor, frail Walter Poole, whose partner the robust titan of industry, Henry Wilcox has little time for.

From this foursome Lopez strikes loose parallels with Howard’s End: the Schleigel sisters (Eric and Toby) and Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox (Walter Poole and Henry Wilcox). Lopez furthers the complications with these relationships to eventually cue in Leo’s metamorphosis and Toby’s disintegration.

Henry was married with two sons; when his wife died he became enamored with Walter. They coupled and Walter lovingly raised the boys, maintaining the family dynamic while Henry often was away on business. Toby grows apart from Eric as he bathes in his success and becomes attracted to actor Adam (Samuel H. Levine) the wealthy counterpart of the homeless, uneducated, look alike hustler Leo who eventually writes the story of their lives. Toby and Eric split and Eric is devastated. Walter dies; Henry is devastated. Walter leaves a house upstate to Eric. Walter intuits that Eric spiritually can be the caretaker of the house because of his generous, charitable nature. However, Walter’s death bed wishes are not honored when Henry, motivated by his grasping sons, denies Walter’s request and burns the paper on which he wrote his “last will and testament.”

Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton, John Benjamin Hickey, The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley

(L to R): Kyle Soller, Paul Hilton, John Benjamin Hickey in ‘The Inheritance,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, designed by Bob Crowley, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by the novel ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster (Matthew Murphy)

From then and there the conflict augments and we become intrigued as to how the upstate house will eventually land in Eric’s lap, for surely he is more deserving than Henry’s crass sons.

The mystery why Walter bequeaths the house to Eric (it is staged as a miniature replica colonial, back lit, opening up to reveal rooms and furniture in an adroit, beautiful, sleight-of-hand design by Bob Crowley) becomes revealed by the end of Part I. It is a stunning revelation tied in to the inheritance the previous gay generation left our writer cadre of the present. That generation was a community of which Walter was one of the last to die.

This greatest generation of the “war” from the last two decades of the 20th century experienced the scourge and crucible of fatal autoimmune deficiencies. These were the lost generation. They never came out  from under the torments and tribulations of the AIDS epidemic that struck thousands of the most gifted and talented in the artistic world who often died alone, unloved, invisible, without hope, the spurned contagious lepers of their time, their blood toxic to the touch. It was only until after the gay community, celebrities, politicians and other notables joined together to pressure scientific researchers to conquer the disease with the right cocktail of medications that the AIDS war ended. Theirs was an amazing endeavor that took twenty years. But for this war generation who died, one after the other expending their blood, sweat and tears, the current writers would not be able to luxuriate in indulgent sex without concerns about contracting dreaded kaposi’s sarcoma.

Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller, Andrew Burnap, The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley

(L to R): Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller, Andrew Burnap in ‘The Inheritance,’ Part I, Part II, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by E.M. Forester’s ‘Howard’s End,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, design by Bob Crowley (Marc Brenner)

Walter’s loving nature inspired him to take in many of the AIDS generation who were dying. He took care of them in the upstate house, much to Henry’s great chagrin. But the moral imperative was great and he nursed the dying victims of “the war” at this serene refuge assisted by Margaret (the wonderful Lois Smith who shows up in Part II) who also lost a son to “the plague.” Thus, the dying don’t have to face the fear and darkness alone, but endure it knowing they are loved. As Eric is told the story others appear to verify the beauty and sacrifice of this war generation so that current members of the gay community might live in a greater peace, free from the noxious, soul-draining, heartbreaking physical wasting of AIDS.

As the end of Part I spools into eternity, we recognize that this is not only a play about the gay community (the tableau of them sitting around Bob Crowley’s white platform leaning on each other is fabulously akin to a famous Renaissance painting). Others were impacted by “the plague.” And they are no less important; the disease didn’t discriminate; toxic blood contamination was passed to others, male, female, straight, gay, transgender, children, elders, those of every ethnic culture. The difference is the cruel ostracism of being gay was further heightened by having AIDS. Stonewall could not answer a scourge, only medical science can, racing against death. And it did!

Finally, as Part I concludes, Lopez reminds us that while we live, we prepare a place for the next generation through our struggles, our trials and our difficulties. And it is this journey that must be told, even shouted from the rooftops to the younger generation who are our inheritors.

Lois Smith, Samuel H. Levine, The Inheritance Matthew Lopez, Stephen Daldry, Bob Crowley,

Lois Smith, Samuel H. Levine in ‘The Inheritance,’ directed by Stephen Daldry, designed by Bob Crowley, written by Matthew Lopez inspired by the novel ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster (Matthew Murphy)

If Part II is not as haunting and dense, it is dramatic with incredible monologues of truth delivered. Among others, Lois Smith’s Margaret shares her story and Toby revels his past as an entrance to what he will choose for his future. Both are amazing.

The cadre of friends matures, but into the scene Leo emerges picking up where wealthy Adam (Samuel L Levine) left off in Part I. In Part I before the stunning end, Lopez sets us up, as Adam and Toby confront each other, competitive wills. Adam as the star of Toby’s play is getting more acclaim than playwright Toby. Toby accuses Adam of having an easy life absent fear. In an exceptional monologue (end of Act I, Part I) Levine’s Adam describes an incident in a bath house in Europe whose impact is at first heady and divine in its allurement. But when it is over Adam’s realization converts the event to what it is, frightening and sinister in its sadomasochism and shocking realism. The sex was unprotected and there is blood, much blood. But because Adam confides in his parents, they act quickly to get the right medications. For the second time since Adam was adopted into wealth, Adam gratefully acknowledges his parents saved his life, this time from “the plague.”

Lopez provides an striking contrast in characterization between Adam and his doppleganger Leo (also portrayed by Samuel L. Levine). Levine’s portrayal of both is superbly vital. It suggests the differences between their class, education, personality, perceptions. He plays each acutely with superlative specificity. Manifested is the vast demographic of gays and their experiences. They are not always wealthy and/or educated or elite stereotypes. Indeed, sex is a tool and hustlers who may have been bisexual were caught up in the war in the last century. However, in 2018 the drugs are a salvation and the hope for changing one’s circumstances is ever-present.

As a homeless man, Leo has left a dire situation and his means of support is hustling. Of course he flirts with danger and the threat of disease hangs over him with every trick. That Toby uses Leo as a trick, then boyfriend to satisfy his lust for Adam because Leo looks exactly like Adam, becomes one of the linchpins of Part II. There is even a duplication of the scene Adam described to Toby in Part I, cruelly revived because Leo does not choose this for himself, Toby chooses it for him. In other words, Toby would have sadomasochism forced on Leo in a cruel remembrance of what Adam told him. Toby’s descent is made clear in this scene. And soon he will have no where to go but the abyss of darkness reflected in his soul.

A second linchpin is Eric’s and Henry’s relationship. Despite all of Eric’s friends’ counsel after Henry discusses why he is a Republican and supports Trump, Eric decides he will accept Henry’s proposal, though their ethics, morals and emotional impulses are antithetical. Ironically, we note that Eric is blinded by Henry’s wealth and charm and intuit Eric is headed for another disastrous relationship.

How Lopez resolves these problems using parallel elements from Howard’s End is intricate but inevitably logical. He fleshes out the characters of Toby, Eric, Henry and Leo with lustrous precision bringing each to their own resolution toward redemption, damnation or apotheosis as in the case of Leo. In Part II, Lopez emphasizes the aspect of joining past and present to build on the inheritance of what others have forged out from their earthly trials. Ultimately, because the protagonists (Eric, Margaret, Leo, Henry) have reconciled and recognized the contributions, love and sacrifice of those who have gone before them, they are able to create renewal and rejuvenation in their own lives and the lives of others. Leo’s recovery in Eric’s house (which Henry finally gives Eric) allows Leo to receive the eventual grace, education, scholarship that Henry Wilcox initiates in remembrance of his love for Walter. And thus, finally, Leo is able to tell this story of all of them of what they inherited-the love, the sacrifice so that they can bridge the present to inspire and bring hope to future generations.

Yes, the plot of The Inheritance is labyrinthine, some parts bloated. But the adroit shepherding of performances and staging by director Stephen Daldry help to tease out the actors’ performances so that overall the effort is spectacular.

This is a phenomenal work. It especially resonates in our current climate which looks to be a vast leap backward, but which in another realm of consciousness may bring out the best in those of us who prize love above hate, unity above division, truth above falsehood, a nurturing spirit above cold-heartedness. All of these contrasts Lopez’s work clarifies with a bit of redemption and remorse sprinkled along the way. Powerful, prescient, preeminent!

A special mention goes to the creative team who magnificently with minimalism and seamless charm brought Daldry’s vision into being. These include Jon Clark (lighting design) Paul Arditti & Christopher Reid, Paul Englishby (original music) Bob Crowley (design).

This is going to be an award winner as it was in the U.K. See it to be uplifted and moved. You won’t regret it. The Inheritance is currently at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street). For tickets and times CLICK HERE.














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