Feature: Matthew Lopez’s ‘The Inheritance’ is Representation Done Right

“If we can’t have a conversation with our past, then what will be our future?  Who are we?  And more importantly, who will we become?” 

Matthew Lopez, The Inheritance

Inspired by the novel Howards End by E.M Forster, The Inheritance is presented in two parts with a run time of seven hours. The show opened earlier this month. I was fortunate enough to see it while it was still in previews.

The play follows the lives of two couples and addresses the election of Trump, the A.I.D.S epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s, marriage equality, and internal homophobia. With precision, Matthew Lopez, the playwright, weaves a tapestry for modern gay men, while honoring a generation gone too soon.

As a 54-year-old gay man, I am thankful for literature honoring those whom were lost to the A.I.D.S epidemic. For me, it was refreshing to see the subject of “The Plague” explained to a generation who wasn’t born to witness the horror claiming a generation gone to soon.  Incorporating two entwined love stories, past and present, the play reaches its emotional climax at the end of Part One.  I can say, after seeing many productions over the years, the end of Part One of this production is by far one of the most moving and poignant moments in theatre I have witnessed, not only affecting me, but the entire audience. 

Too often in plays about gay men, the characters become caricatures or are presented as maudlin or suicidal. Here Lopez presents a real world of gay problems, gay love, gay heartache, and gay history. Lopez gives depth to his characters, each experiencing several highs and lows over the course of the two-year time span.  I found myself relating to several of the characters, seeing both my younger self and the man I am today.  For me, this is great storytelling.

“What is the responsibility of gay men from one generation to another?” 

The Inheritance

Accountability is a reoccurring theme in the story.  When I heard one of the characters talk about the journey of his dead friends, I remembered mine. I felt, in that moment, the journey I was on was not in vain.

I have made it my purpose to educate and inspire the LGBTQ youth of today, leading by example and showing them being gay doesn’t put limits on their lives.  They can marry the person they love.  They can live openly and honestly and live their best lives.  However, I also want them to know and realize the reasons they can do these things are because of battles fought on their behalf, battles which were under way before some of them were born. I want them to know they are standing on the soldiers of a generation who fought the fight, hoping one day, future generations could have a better life. They do. 

The Inheritance has received a lot of critical acclaim during its run in London’s West End. A reviewer for The Telegraph called it “perhaps the most important American play of this century so far.”  It is my opinion The Inheritance will become a part of gay theater history, coming at a time in our society when freedoms are being threatened for gay men.  It is time we have a story that not only correctly represents a contemporary gay community but also glances into the rear-view mirror and recognizes, honors and remembers those who paved the way for a better world. Never forget and keep moving forward.

Tim Locklear is the Managing Artistic Director of North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. Hear what he has to say about LGBTQ theater in the United States on the RDU on Stage podcast.

Additional Resources:

25 Essential LGBTQ Plays by Tim Locklear

20 Essential LGBTQ Musicals by Tim Locklear

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