RTP hosts the regional premiere of a sprawling, two-part, Tony-winning epic.
What will it take to entice theater-goers to commit to seven hours of “The Inheritance,” the acclaimed story of three generations of gay men grappling with echoes of the AIDS crisis in contemporary New York?
Deejay Gray, one of the lead actors in the production opening at Richmond Triangle Players (RTP) this weekend, provides at least a half-dozen reasons why the show is a “must-see” event. There are the obvious ones: the 2020 Tony award for Best Play and the chatter about the sprawling, explosive story being the next “Angels in America.”
But Gray focuses on the viewer experience, saying, “It’s the most heart-breaking, hilarious, and life-affirming show you’ll ever see. Something as ambitious and boundary-pushing as this show is a gift to experience, and nothing like it is going to come around again any time soon.”
He also concedes that the ultimate attraction may be the most mundane. “It’s hot outside, and it gives you two chances to come be cold in the theater,” Gray says with a laugh.
RTP landed the rights for “The Inheritance” before other regional hotspots like Washington and Baltimore and, as a result, “there are people coming from all over the place to see this production,” Gray explains.
The play, written by Matthew Lopez, follows several artists who look to famously-closeted author E.M. Forester for spiritual guidance as they relate their stories of love and loss. Particular focus is given to Toby (played by Gray) and Eric (Adam Turck), who are contemplating getting married. The show borrows the skeleton of its plot from Forester’s novel “Howard’s End” while also weaving in aspects of the author’s life and themes from his work.
“It’s rare to have a show that’s so entertaining, while also being educational and enlightening,” says Gray. “The amount of gay history I’ve learned from this show is just remarkable.”
Some theater insiders were surprised when the Best Play Tony award went to “The Inheritance” over “Slave Play,” the most-nominated play in the history of the awards. The show’s legacy was also complicated when it closed in March of 2020 due to the pandemic after running less than four months. While the show enjoyed a spectacular run in London, reviews in the New York press were mixed.
RTP’s Artistic Director, Lucian Restivo, is directing the production and calls it the “perfect opening show for our 30th season. It’s a beautiful, incredible work of storytelling and absolutely the biggest thing we’ve ever done at RTP.” Having to manage a cast of 15 that has been rehearsing what is essentially two complete plays, Restivo concedes “it’s a gigantic beast of a piece.”
Addressing the challenge of the show’s two-part structure, Restivo says, “the miraculous thing is that [playwright] Matthew Lopez did such an amazing job crafting this story that each part really stands on its own.” He also says the viewing experience will actually be analogous to the way many people experience storytelling these days. “Lopez has said that each act of the play is like an episode in a Netflix series,” Restivo explains. “So seeing ‘The Inheritance’ is like binging a series in two chunks of three episodes.”
COVID remains a complicating factor in producing theater and, at the time of this interview, Gray was sitting out of rehearsals due to testing positive. “The way RTP has handled the COVID of it all is really impressive,” Gray explains, with multiple understudies built into the cast to allow for unexpected absences. “I’m frustrated that I’m not at rehearsal right now, but it’s comforting to know that when I get back, the ship will still be on course.”
Gray has been best known in the Richmond theater community as the artistic director of TheatreLAB, a company he co-founded in 2012. Earlier this spring, he announced his plans to dissolve the company and move to New York. His role in “The Inheritance” will be his first acting gig in more than four years.
“When I accepted this role, part of me was thinking, ‘Did I really give up my entire last summer in Richmond to do this play?’” says Gray. “But I am so glad that I did. It has reminded me how much I love acting. It’s ended up being the highlight of the past few years for me.”
“The Inheritance (Part One)” opens on Aug. 3; “The Inheritance (Part Two)” on Aug. 10. Patrons will need to buy tickets to each part separately. The parts are performed on different days except for Saturday, Sept. 3 when Part One will be performed as the matinee and Part Two in the evening. Go to rtriangle.org for tickets and information.