by Lynn on March 30, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing in two parts until: April 13 (Part I), April 14 (Part II).

Written by Matthew López

Directed by Brendan Healy

Choreography by Hollywood Jade

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting Kimberly Purtell

Composer and sound designer, Richard Feren

Cast: Salvatore Antonio

Aldrin Bundoc

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

Hollywood Jade

Qasim Khan

Breton Lalama

Daniel MacIvor

Jim Mezon

Landon Nesbitt

Ben Page

Louise Pitre

Gregory Prest

Antoine Yared

A mountain of a play, well-acted and reverential

The Story. The Inheritance by Matthew López is a two-part mountain of a play. It’s a reworking of E.M. Forster’s classic novel, “Howard’s End that is set in England and centers around three families. In Matthew López’s version, it’s about three generations of gay men after the height of the AIDS crisis, set in contemporary times in Manhattan.  

Eric and Toby are a 30-something couple who have been together for seven years and have decided to get engaged. Eric is a lawyer with a conscience. Toby is a brash writer who has written a novel and has turned it into a play bound for Broadway. Eric meets an older man named Walter who is haunted by his past. Toby falls in love/or is besotted by Adam, the young man cast in his play and so the relationships are always in flux here.

Also at the center of this is a mansion in the country that has been the private residence of Walter that he turned into a hospice for men dying of AIDS during the epidemic. The house has a special significance to Eric.

Over the seven hours running time of both parts together, we witness partners who separate and go off with other partners, look longingly at the ex and wonder if they made a mistake, make value judgements about new partners of friends and try to make sense of their ever-changing world.  

The Production. The set by Michael Gianfrancesco looks like a backstage of a theatre with a long table and chairs, as if there is a rehearsal about to take place. Characters arrive with scripts, (the galley of an unpublished book?) binders and computers that they look at as the audience fills in. When the production begins the character of Leo (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) steps forward to say that he has a story to tell but doesn’t know how to tell it. He notes books he loves, and holds up his favourite—I assume it’s “Howard’s End”(who can see a small book from the stage if you are half-way back in the theatre?). This conjures the ghost or E.M. Forster in the name of a character named Morgan (Daniel MacIvor). E.M Forster is really Edward Morgan Forster.

Morgan, played with quiet grace by Daniel MacIvor, begins to question Leo about his story and the various characters in it in order to help Leo get through his writer’s block. Morgan will wander in and out of the narrative in time to get it going when Leo has difficulty finding what to say.

The Inheritance has a character of Henry (Jim Mezon), who used to be Walter’s (Daniel MacIvor) partner until Walter died. Henry is secretive, not necessarily closeted.  And in that way, The Inheritance is closer to E.M. Forster and his efforts to hide his homosexuality. He lived his whole life hiding it. Of course in England it was illegal to be gay until 1965, so Forster hid it. He wrote a book called “Maurice” which was about homosexual love in the 20th century. But Forster forbade it to be published until after he died. You weep for him.

Both parts of The Inheritance are approx. 3 ½ hours each with two intermissions. Why is this such a daunting big deal to some? It’s not as if you are crossing the desert with only a thimble of water, or flying to a far away land and are trapped in a plane. It’s a play. The seats are comfortable, for the most part.

Each part has a cast of  approximately 13 playing a few parts each in some cases. The play takes time to work out the relationships of the characters. And playwright Matthew López luxuriates in taking his time to riff on politics, being a Republican, being rich, suffering, being judgmental and trying to see another point of view.

In one scene in Part II, Eric (Qasim Khan) has connected with Henry Wilcox (Jim Mezon), who was Walter’s partner. Eric introduces Henry, who is an older man, to his friends who are in their 30s. Eric was afraid how the acerbic, quick-witted Henry would deal with his friends. Jim Mezon as Henry has that body language of a man of power, confident in that power and his ability to read the room and deal with the various challenges. But Henry also knows that these are Eric’s friends as is he, and he, Henry, must act accordingly to make a good impression. Mezon is mesmerizing when ‘discussing’ politics, Republicans, aiding those who had AIDS and generally the world, with Eric’s friend Jasper, played with wit and condescension by Salvatore Antonio. He is jolly on the surface, but Henry’s razor-sharp brain gleams in the back and forth of the dialogue. He has a last line he bellows and that sends a shiver down everybody’s back, it’s so true.  

As Eric, Qasim Khan gives a nimble performance of an agile-thinking man who ponders a lot of questions. Eric is a man searching for a purpose to his life, perhaps to perform the great gesture to serve humanity. Khan’s performance embodies Eric’s humanity and generosity.

As Toby, Antoine Yared shows all the self-indulgence and narcissism of that troubled character. But he also conveys how lost and losing ground Toby is. As both Leo and Adam, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is sensitive, brash, caring and trying to hang on. Louise Pitre plays Margaret, a woman who lives at the mansion in the country and takes care of it, who makes an appearance at the end of the play. The performance is quiet and understated.    

 The Inheritance is directed with exquisite care and detail by director Brendan Healy. The tone is almost reverential. His vision of the production shines soft light (kudos to Kimberly Purtell) on various characters so that at times they look like ghosts floating in the air. The soft sounds of Richard Feren’s piano underscoring plays without intrusion.  

Great swaths of the narrative are delivered in the third person by the cast to the audience to fill in details of the story. Judicious cutting was in order. Some characters are florid. Some never know when to shut up.

There are side-long jokes to the audience about how long a show was that they saw, then a character says “but there are two intermissions” so it’s a little insider joke to the audience. (Each part of The Inheritance has two intermissions). It’s too cute and self-indulgent to be sure.

Do you need to have read “Howard’s End” to appreciate The Inheritance? You can always Google a precis of “Howard’s End” to find out what it’s about and read it later because it deserves to be read.

The Inheritance references gay issues, AIDS, the ghosts of those lost to the disease, relationships, politics and who did most to help during the epidemic. Playwright Matthew López does have a facility with language and at times you wonder “do people really talk in this heightened way?” But the cast is so accomplished that the words and thoughts go zinging through the air.

Comment. If ever there was a play that demanded absolute silence from an audience to appreciate it, The Inheritance is it.  What then to do with the annoyingly placed snap-fizz sounds of pop cans being opened in the theatre at the most inappropriate time and the crinkle crinkle of cellophane bags of popcorn into which noisy hands were plunged, followed by the chomping of the morsels. We aren’t at the movies, where the sound is amplified three times normal. Or a baseball game. As it was the cast is microphoned (alas projection) but boy did that cast have to act against all that noise.

Do ya think that if you didn’t allow food or drink (except water) in the theatre that people would stay away in droves? How does Young People’s Theatre manage to be firm with its young audiences—“no food or drink in the theatre except bottled water.” I have not witnessed any mutiny the many times I’ve been there. They are trying to set an example and create respectful audiences. But there is Canadian Stage among others, negating all that education, by selling noisy bagged food and canned pop that is allowed into the theatre, producing a cacophony that interrupts the play. Mind-boggling.  

Canadian Stage Company presents:

Plays until: Part I plays until April 13, 2024.

                     Part II plays until April 14, 2024.

Running time: 3 ½ hours each part (2 intermissions)

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