Theatre review: The Inheritance, fortyfivedownstairs

A theatre marathon about the intergenerational relationships, romantic or otherwise, of a gay community in New York City. 
The Inheritance. A group of men on a dimly lit stage, with two spotlit in the centre hugging.

It’s not every day that Melbourne theatregoers can binge watch a lauded gay US epic work, but the opportunity has arisen as part of the city’s annual LGBTQIA+ festival, Midsumma.

To watch The Inheritance on a Sunday will see you in the bowels of the fortyfivedownstairs theatre for roughly eight hours (including a respectable 90-minute dinner break). Audiences who prefer a less intensive experience may opt to see Parts One and Two of the production on consecutive nights. Spending so much time with a staged piece is a luxury, but also a feat of endurance for both the audience and production team, though neither let it show on opening night. 

The Inheritance, written by Matthew López, explores the lives of gay men from different generations, living in New York from 2015 to 2018. The work has a particular focus on HIV-AIDS. 

López is commanding in his certainty of what needs to be explored to create a robust sense of The Inheritance’s world. His writing of the ensemble is delightfully funny. The cast, under the helm of director Kitan Petkovski, perform these moments with great comic timing, a heart-warming sense of camaraderie and general gusto. López also injects plenty of humour into the piece outside of the ensemble moments. Laugh out loud moments include jokes about overly proficient ushers, poor audience etiquette and rental costs. 

López’s dialogue is arresting. His sinuous way of breaking the fourth wall while also framing the story as a phantasmagorical editing session with writer turned character E M Forster feels like a masterclass of unique storytelling. 

However, his pacing does drag around 40 to 60 minutes into each act – of which there are four. This is mostly due to a penchant for overly long monologues and political discussions, as well as an ending that has four false starts. With such a long production, these moments get quite frustrating. The storyline of Leo, a homeless sex worker, is similarly irksome. It comes across as passé poverty porn that resolves like a gay rendition of The Blind Side where becoming an NFL (National Football League) player is replaced by writing a novel called…The Inheritance.

López’s confidence in the winding road he has created seems to falter in the opening of Part Two, Act II. The play’s themes of mentorship, support and sharing lived experiences across generations in the gay community has been lovingly unfurled and explored for hours through The Inheritance’s narrative. But just in case he hasn’t got the point across, López summarises these themes via a monologue, that may as well be a lecture, which the E M Forster character delivers to Leo.

As is the way with theatre epics, the star of the show is the writer – for daring to attempt such a feat in an age of short-form online content and keeping audiences engrossed for almost all of the play’s long duration. But Tomáš Kantor, playing the role of Toby so captivatingly, gives López a run for his money. Kantor balances Toby’s charm and cruelty with precision – maintaining a sense of Toby’s essence even as the character’s identity unravels. When Kantor steps on stage, the show’s energy lifts as if everyone’s excited to see what he’ll do next. Part Two is worse off for the long stretches of Toby’s absence.

In a show rife with sexual encounters, Petkovski creates thoughtful blocking during sex scenes that sidesteps simulated sex, but doesn’t shy away from sensuality and attraction. However, the decision not to change or even slightly modify the set between Part One and Two does make the blocking of other scenes feel repetitive at times. 

Read: Performance review: Afrocentric, National Gallery of Victoria

Given the production’s length, The Inheritance was always going to be a show for the theatrically initiated. For those who want to experience long-form “epic” theatre or are drawn to the work’s themes, it’s a worthwhile use of eight hours. 

The Inheritance
Writer: Matthew López

Producers: Cameron Lukey and Coady Green
Director: Kitan Petkovski

Associate Director: Justin Nott
Set and Costume Designer: Bethany J Fellows
Lighting Designer: Katie Sfetkidis

Sound Designer and Composer: Rachel Lewindon
Stage Manager: Ashleigh Walwyn
Iopu Auva’a, Rupert Bevan, Juan Gomez, Tomáš Kantor, Javon King, Joss McClelland, Dion Mills, Jillian Murray, Hunter Perske, Charles Purcell, Karl Richmond, Christian Taylor and Alex Thew
Tickets: $89-$109

The Inheritance will be performed until 11 February 2024.

Jenna Schroder is an emerging arts critic, with a background in dance and voice, and an organiser at the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance. Outside of her union activism, Jenna can be found performing at The Improv Conspiracy, around the Melbourne comedy scene and producing independent work across multiple platforms. Twitter: @jennaschroder00