Review: Zach Theatre's The Inheritance, Part 2

Second installment of this audacious opus is too much of a good thing

Zach Theatre's The Inheritance, Part 2 (Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro)

Pardon the sports analogy, but if each of Tennessee Williams' one-act plays is a sprint and Shakespeare's 4,000-line Hamlet is a marathon, then The Inheritance – Matthew Lopez's epic two-part, six-plus-hour opus – is an Olympic decathlon.

The play reimagines E.M. Forster's 1910 novel Howards End as a 21st-century portrait of New York's gay community. It asks how much its members owe those who lived and loved before them and, through the telling of their own stories, how they can guide the next generation. More specifically, the play focuses on the stories of thirtysomething partners Eric Glass (Christopher Joel Onken) and Toby Darling (Jake Roberson), and a coterie of interesting others they befriend, including an older man, Walter (Peter Frechette), haunted by the past and a younger man, Leo (Brenden Kyle MacDonald), desperate for a future.

The writing is profoundly touching, wickedly funny, and infused with magical realism that allows, among other things, for the long-dead Forster (also Frechette) to pay a visit and serve as a spirit guide for these characters. As was noted in the review of Zach Theatre's production of The Inheritance, Part 1, staged from Aug. 10 to Sept. 4, the work "is stunning." This first installment was bursting with intelligent dialogue, engaging argument about personal choice and politics, powerful monologues about tragedy and triumph, and enthralling creativity. Everything was executed with breathtaking theatricality and fluidity, courtesy of the deft hand of director Dave Steakley, his corps of superb actors, and the deceptively simple stagecraft of his designers: Josafath Reynoso (scenic), Austin Brown (lighting), Allen Robertson (sound), Aaron Kubacak (costume).

Part 1 ended with Eric moving on from his breakup with Toby and falling into a relationship with his late friend Walter's partner, the monied and much older Henry Wilcox (Scott Galbreath). While visiting Walter's upstate colonial-era house – a house that had, in the 1980s and 1990s, been used as a place of refuge and comfort for young, disenfranchised men dying of AIDS – Eric is met by one peaceful and welcoming ghost after another. They formed a final tableau as the lights fade to black and the audience is left to weep its way back to the parking lot to head home and recover.

Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, and what we find upon returning to the Zach is more of the same, thematically and theatrically. Sure, the storyline advances and we witness the characters' energizing sense of self-discovery turn into disheartening self-deception and self-destruction. We are provided with Toby, Walter, and Henry's backstories and see characters in flashbacks, which add insight into how and why they behaved the way they did in Part 1. But what was so sublime, spellbinding, and breathtaking in the production seen just a few weeks ago seems formulaic, reads too melodramatically, and is all too familiar now that its modus operandi is showing. At times, this installment feels long and immense.

It is only with the introduction of something new late in Part 2 that the spark that ignited the first installment is briefly rekindled. Here, we are introduced to Margaret (a masterful, captivating Libby Villari), a South Carolina transplant who has long served as the caretaker of Walter's upstate home. She, too, sees the ghosts and relates her own history of shattering loss in a magnificent monologue. In doing so, we are reminded of the call to action to care for one another that drives this play.

And, you guessed it, it leaves the audience weeping as we work our way back to the parking lot to head home and recover.

Zach Theatre's The Inheritance, Part 2

The Kleberg, 1421 W. Riverside, 512/476-0541
Through Oct. 9
Running time: 3 hrs., 30 min.

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Zach Theatre, The Inheritance, The Inheritance, Part 2, Dave Steakley, Josafath Reynoso, Austin Brown, Allen Robertson, Aaron Kubacak, Christopher Joel Onken, Jake Roberson, Peter Frechette, Scott Galbreath, Libby Villari, Brenden Kyle MacDonald

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