The company of The Inheritance Part 1. Photo: Pandora Productions

The Inheritance Part 1

By Matthew Lopez
Inspired by the novel, Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
Directed by Gil Reyes

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

Since it premiered in London in 2018, Matthew Lopez’s play, The Inheritance has been compared to iconic plays such as Love! Valour! Compassion! and Angels in America. That is rarified air, but the latter seems a specious match. However, the former is easily a forerunner, even if Lopez exercises a much larger vision and historical and literary framework.

The Inheritance is billed as “inspired” by Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, a classic novel and Oscar-winning movie by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (although I suggest the 2017 Kenneth Lonergan adaptation for British television), and it does follow much of Forster’s plotline as well as featuring him (at least in Part 1) as a loose narrator and commentator played by Michael J. Drury.

Like Angels, Lopez has spread his narrative over two separate plays, yet his story is naturalistic and intimate. He uses the epic length of six hours over two performances to develop character and story to good effect. 

Toby Darling (Remy Sisk) is a writer living with his partner, Eric Glass (Andrew Newton-Schaftlein) in a spacious Manhattan apartment that had been owned by Eric’s grandmother. Toby adapts his first novel into a play in which Adam (Jared Auton), a new friend of theirs who comes from privilege is cast for the debut production in Chicago. While Toby and Adam are in Chicago, a lonely Eric grows closer to Walter (Michael Drury), an older man whose partner, Henry Wilcox (an understated Sean Childress), is in Europe on an extended business trip.

So much more happens, but you can see the parallels to Forster’s examination of wealth, privilege, and class. Did I mention that Walter also owns a country home that holds great meaning for him?

Lopez’s dialogue beautifully expresses and takes measure of the characters’ various degrees of preoccupation with status and the difference in their values. He dares to offer an extended monologue from Walter whose length is unusual but the importance of which can not be overstated. In the second act (there are three) there is a lengthy scene of emotional conflict and heartbreak between Eric and Troy that also reminds us of the pleasures of intelligent language delivered by good actors. It highlights the confidence of the playwright but also the demands placed on both the company and the audience.

Yet if the company is up to it, and this one certainly is, and the pacing of the production is smart, the length of detail is engrossing and never taxing. On opening night, there were audible confirmations of the depth of connection from the audience that must have been deeply satisfying for director Gil Reyes. It is also a profound reminder of the power of community within a live audience; the realization of shared engagement and honest response that only live performance can give you.

The setting is a spare and efficient level curved as in an amphitheater, putting the focus squarely on the ensemble. Michael J. Drury is a sensitive but authoritative mentor as both Forster called “Morgan”, and Walter. He is just slightly removed from the others, a source of wisdom and learning. Remy Sisk has the luck of the lines, with Tory’s dialogue full of wit and withering sarcasm, and Andrew Schaftlein is the sympathetic center, their long blonde curls positioning Eric as a good person, a decency exemplified in this actor’s solid, unshowy work.

Jared Auton is also very compelling as Adam, who is arguably the crux of the discussion of privilege. Auton is also given a lengthy monologue describing in graphic language a sexual experience the truth of which is a question. Lopez embraces frank sexual conversation as part of the connection to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Most of these characters missed that devastation, but Walter, and later Henry Wilcox, are vital conduits in their education in terms both subtle and blunt.

Although the idea of inherited property is central to the plot, I believe the true meaning of the play’s title lies in the intergenerational passing of this knowledge and understanding. HIV has been largely forgotten in the social discourse, perhaps replaced by COVID but also forgotten once the urgency diminished with the body count as treatments increased in effectiveness. Yet there never has been a “cure” – at one point a character exclaims, “There’s no money in a CURE!” – and the risk remains, however, contained.    

At times the character’s discussion about this subject is rhetorical and bordering on didactic, but the time and space Lopez has provided to this community of friends allows us to experience these exchanges as honest confrontations with the harsh realities faced by the community of Gay men and the larger LGBTQA+ population. 

The Inheritance is beautifully constructed in three acts, each ending on a forceful note, and Part 1 finishes without feeling too anticlimactic. Part 2 opens March 14 and then we will see how Lopez closes out this bold and challenging piece of theatre.

Featuring Jared Auten, Sean Childress, Ian Cobb, Jacob Cooper, Michael J. Drury, Aurion Johnson, Michael Guarnieri, Braden McCampbell, Mark Martinez, Andrew Newton-Schaftlein, Remy Sisk, & Karole Spangler

The Inheritance Part 1

Part 1: March 8, 9, 21, 23, 29 @ 7:30 pm 
March 10 @ 2:30 pm; March 17 @ 5:30 pm; March 25 @ 7 pm

Part 2: March 14, 15, 16, 22, 28, 30 @ 7:30 pm
March 18 @ 7 pm; March 24 @ 2:30 pm

Pandora Productions 
Henry Clay Theater
604 S. 3rd Street
Louisville, KY 40202  

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for