Showing posts with label Gay Art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Art. Show all posts

September 4, 2019

The Gay GYN and Howard's End


One may as well begin with Matthew Lopez, sitting in the Sheep Meadow,
 in Central Park, and rereading “Howards End.” It is 2008, and Lopez, 
recently turned thirty, has kept returning to E. M. Forster’s novel 
of Edwardian England ever since he was introduced to it, in 1993,
 in the form of the Merchant Ivory film adaptation. Lopez, then a slight, 
isolated sixteen-year-old, begged his mother, an elementary-school teacher, 
to take him to see the film during its brief run in his home town of Panama City,
 in the Florida Panhandle. There was a vast disparity between his circumstances
 and those of Forster’s calm, earnest heroine, Margaret Schlegel—who lives in London, 
on income from an inheritance, with her tempestuous sister Helen,
 and whose celebrated inward injunction, “Only connect,” provides the novel’s
 moral core. Nonetheless, Lopez had the uncanny sense that Forster, 
writing almost a century earlier, had intended the book just for him.
Image result for matthew lopez inheritance
Now Lopez thinks about a strain of repression underlying the narrative. He’s recently learned that Forster was a closeted gay man, who found the impossibility of writing truthfully about his desires so crippling that he stopped publishing novels in his forties, suppressing his one explicitly gay-themed book, “Maurice,” until after his death, in 1970, at the age of ninety-one. Lopez, too, is gay, a fact that he resisted reckoning with in his teens. By 2008, he has been a New Yorker for eight years, wholly partaking in the city’s gay culture: drinking vodka-tonics at Splash, in Chelsea, and at Wonder Bar, in the East Village; clubbing at the Limelight; hooking up, sometimes recklessly. His stated ambition for moving to the city—to become an actor—has languished. Various stints as an executive assistant, initially intended merely to support his audition-going, have led to what he has to admit is a real job. He has started writing plays, but feels that he has little to show for his three decades. Amid the bright animation of his social life, he wrestles with loneliness and self-loathing.
In Central Park, an idea for a drama stirs. What if Forster’s plot were transposed to contemporary New York, with gay men from different generations standing in for Forster’s straight people from different classes?
Not bad, Lopez thinks.
He isn’t ready to write it yet. Only after several more years—during which he will hone his playwriting craft, and nearly be undone by alcoholism—will he be able to pick up a notebook and write on its cover the title of his putative adaptation: “The Inheritance.”
“The Inheritance” is a two-part, seven-hour epic centered on a group of gay New Yorkers, two decades after the height of the aids epidemic. The play begins previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, on West Forty-seventh Street, on September 27th. It arrives on Broadway after a sold-out run in London, where it originated at the Young Vic.
“The Inheritance,” which is directed by Stephen Daldry, played to rapturous audiences in the U.K.; the Telegraph called it “perhaps the most important American play of the century.” It won four Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and Best Director. The Best Actor award went to Kyle Soller, who is onstage for nearly all of “The Inheritance,” in the role of Eric Glass. At the play’s outset, Eric is a thirty-three-year-old facing the imminent loss of a rent-controlled apartment, on the Upper West Side, that he has inherited from his grandmother, a German refugee and a Holocaust survivor.
Eric Glass is Lopez’s stand-in for Margaret Schlegel, Forster’s socially progressive and sometimes naïve heroine, whose dispossession from her family residence is key to “Howards End,” and whose encounters with disparate Londoners—from Leonard Bast, a struggling clerk, to Henry Wilcox, an affluent industrialist—shape her understanding of her obligations to others. Like Margaret, Eric provides a center of gravity for the characters swirling around him. Among them are Eric’s boyfriend, a charismatic but tormented writer named Toby Darling, who is Lopez’s version of Helen Schlegel; Adam McDowell, a seductive social climber, and Leo, a homeless sex worker, who together approximate Leonard Bast; and Henry Wilcox, a billionaire real-estate developer, who brings Eric into conflict with his moral convictions, just as Forster’s Henry Wilcox does with Margaret.
Through a chorus of minor characters—such as Jason 1 and Jason 2, who are giddily expecting a baby, with the help of a surrogate mother—“The Inheritance” creates a lovingly wry panorama of gay life in New York that echoes Forster’s depiction of the comfortably bohemian, intellectual London society of the Schlegels. Lopez conjures a familiarly urbane world in which men attend lavishly prepared brunches, are oppressed by their season tickets to bam, and feel the necessity of having an opinion on German Expressionism. The play offers the pleasure of eavesdropping on a clique constantly engaged in competitive, virtuoso conversation.

For all its verbal ebullience, “The Inheritance” also explores serious questions about sexual identity, and measures what the gay community has lost, and gained, in recent decades. Lopez captures an era in which marriage equality has been secured while gay signifiers have been blandly absorbed by the mainstream. In one scene, Tristan, an African-American doctor, rails against his teen-age niece for claiming that the phrase “Yas, kween” comes from “Broad City.” “They have appropriated a phrase from drag culture,” he thunders. “And they’ve built a brand off it!” Eric mournfully notes, “I miss the feeling that being gay was like being a member of a secret club. . . . In order to fully join, you needed people to help bring you in.” (“You’ve just described Soho House,” Jason 2 shoots back.) Through Eric, Lopez asks how, in the age of Grindr, a young man can find not just sex but community—“a connection with something that helps him understand himself.”
“The Inheritance” also raises alarms about the potential reversal of the legal advances that have been made in L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Audience members of any age or sexual orientation may feel a nightmare being replayed when, in Part 1, the friends gather to watch the 2016 election returns. (“Nate Silver still has her at eighty-six per cent,” Jason 1 remarks. Then: “Sixty-seven per cent.” Then: “Fuck you, Nate Silver!”) In a bravura aria in Part 2, Tristan, who is H.I.V.-positive, characterizes President Trump’s effect on the American body politic, declaring, “You could say that he is H.I.V., and that he’s attached himself to American democracy and is now destroying the American immune system. . . . He’s replicating his genetic material from tweet to tweet, from person to person.” In London, the tirade elicited applause; on Broadway, it should bring the house down.
“Howards End” provides many underpinnings for Lopez’s drama: the passing of a beloved home from one person to another; the thorny difficulties of social privilege. In one particularly deft transposition, Lopez reimagines the wife of Henry Wilcox, a spiritual mentor to Margaret Schlegel, as Walter Poole, Henry Wilcox’s partner. Walter illuminates gay history for Eric (and for members of the audience too young to remember Pride Marches without corporate sponsors). Through Walter’s memories, “The Inheritance” summons a not too distant past when gay men were not just marginalized but reviled, because of aids. Part 1 culminates in a coup de théâtre that represents the generational loss wrought by the epidemic. Even in buttoned-up Britain, it reduced theatregoers to sobs.
Though Lopez preserves Forster’s moral seriousness, his play breaks free from its literary scaffold. One bold liberty Lopez takes is to make E. M. Forster himself a character. Referred to, with warm familiarity, as Morgan—Forster’s middle name—he appears as a kind of empathetic counsellor, guiding the chorus of young men through the recounting of their stories. Thanks to Lopez’s artful structuring, only in the final scenes does the audience realize that “The Inheritance” is not just a play about gay life, or aids, or politics, or the imparting of heritage; it is also a work of art about the making of a work of art—about the degree of growth, and the depth of loss, that an artist may have to go through before he can create something truthful.
Matthew Lopez and his husband, Brandon Clarke, a private-school administrator, live in a spectacular penthouse residence atop a new luxury building in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The apartment, which they have rented since 2018, has lofty ceilings and a vertiginous terrace, towering above farm-to-table restaurants and picturesque brownstones. It is the kind of place a Hollywood location scout might select to signify the apogee of metropolitan sophistication.
For Lopez, the view is more personal. From his windows, he can see both the Fort Greene housing projects, where his father, who is Puerto Rican, lived as a child, and Greenpoint, where his mother, who is of Polish-Russian descent, grew up. Lopez’s parents initially lived in New York, but his father, an elementary-school teacher, had been stationed in Florida after serving in Vietnam, and he proposed moving to Panama City, which he thought would be a good place to raise children. “I feel like what was taken from me without my consent—before I was born—was my birthright, which was being a New Yorker,” Lopez told me, when I visited his apartment this spring. Lithe and compact, he curled up in an armchair across from an open kitchen, which Clarke had decorated with a vase of quince branches. In the course of two days, Lopez spoke for hours at a stretch, with clarity and unguardedness; having spent years in psychoanalysis, he is practiced in poring over his experiences. “There was a period where I felt a lot of resentment for having been robbed of who I could’ve been if I’d been raised here,” he said. “My time in the South was basically an eighteen-year-long hostage crisis.”
Lopez, the older of two brothers, felt like a misfit from his earliest years. Panama City was religious—Lopez’s family attended an Episcopal church—and socially conservative. His high school banned the teaching of “The Catcher in the Rye,” because of its profanity; when Lopez asked to study ballet, it proved impossible to find a teacher who countenanced having boys in class. The city was also racially bifurcated between black and white, which left no place for someone of Latino descent. “There was nobody like us around,” he said. “I went through a very shameful period where I didn’t like my last name.” Lopez was soon labelled in another way: “People would say, ‘O.K., we don’t know where you belong on a racial spectrum, but we can identify the fact that you are one queer little kid.’ ”
When Lopez was four, and on a family visit to New York, he saw Sandy Duncan perform in “Peter Pan.” Lopez’s family had a connection to the theatre through his father’s sister, Priscilla Lopez, who originated the role of Diana Morales in “A Chorus Line.” (In 1961, as children, Priscilla and her brother successfully auditioned to play extras in the film of “West Side Story”; in an early dance sequence, Lopez’s father can be seen standing, self-consciously, in a doorway.) A few days after seeing “Peter Pan,” Lopez saw his aunt play Harpo Marx in “A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine.” Lopez told me, “We visited her dressing room, and I remember hearing people warm up, and I watched her put on her makeup and wig. It was this amazing thing of ‘We’re going to strip away all of the magic of theatre, and show you how it’s made.’ ” His life’s course was set, he said: “It was like being given really high-class drugs for your first time, instead of really cheap pot.”
Lopez started performing in community theatre, playing, among other roles, Michael Darling, in “Peter Pan.” In school, however, he shrank from the limelight, because bullies targeted him. “In class, I would position myself so that I wasn’t in their line of sight,” he said. “I would literally hide behind another kid, and move with their movements, to become invisible.” (In a draft of “The Inheritance,” Lopez gave Toby Darling—a New York native who is transplanted to the South as a child—some of his own experiences, including having sunflower seeds spat at him on the school bus. Lopez writes, “No one knew what to do with . . . this sensitive, effeminate, sing-songy, twinkle-toed, wide-eyed, smiling, brokenhearted naïf who actually believed that people had his best interests at heart.”) To cope with the stress, Lopez began drinking, and by his junior year in high school he was going home at lunchtime for a few glasses of wine. “I’d drive back to school and float, in a moderately intoxicated state, through the rest of the day,” he said.
Lopez was attracted to men, but tried to push this knowledge away. “I already had enough going on that marked me as an outsider,” he recalled. The dawning of his sexuality coincided with the aids epidemic. “There was a lot of learned trauma in my generation—though we did not live through the epidemic, we saw it happening as kids, as teen-agers, when we were learning that we were gay, and knowing that our sex lives could kill us,” he said. In Panama City, many people said that aids was God’s retribution for sin. “The headline was ‘Don’t go there. And if you do go there, keep it a secret,’ ” he said. While still underage, he started frequenting the only local gay bar, hanging out with drag artists who performed there. (He later drew on that experience to write “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” a comedy about a straight man who, because of economic hardship, begins to perform in drag; the play was produced in 2015, at the MCC Theatre, in Manhattan.) Lopez attended college at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, where he majored in theatre. He didn’t come out until he was twenty-one. “My mother, for weeks afterward, looked as if there had been a death in the family,” he said. (He now has a good relationship with his parents.)
Lopez has a heightened consciousness of belonging to a generation of gay men that has lived through a sea change: his cohort is old enough to remember the experience of being homosexual as a secret, and perhaps a shameful, identity, yet young enough to have escaped a lifetime in the closet. “In my generation, a staple of conversation was ‘How did you come out?’ ” he said. “What I’ve discovered, over time, is that the younger generation doesn’t have coming-out stories. Or, if they do, it seems as commonplace as making dinner plans.” He and Clarke were married in upstate New York, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in June, 2015, five days before the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage across America. “We were sort of the last pioneers,” Lopez said. Clarke told me that he shares a nostalgia for “that liminal period when gay culture hadn’t completely been co-opted”; not long ago, he wanted to take an out-of-town friend to gay bars, and had to research which of his and Lopez’s former haunts remained open. (Not many.) In part, “The Inheritance” is a celebration of the sense of community often found in a marginalized population. The play also offers validation of the different forms that love between men can take. One draft included a long ode to rimming: “Adam found himself irresistibly drawn to Kip’s ass, to his muscled cheeks splayed before him like an unwrapped gift. . . . To Adam’s surprise and utter enchantment, it smelled almost sweet, like cookies cooling on a rack.” The passage was cut, for length, but “it’s still the ethos of the play,” Lopez said, adding, “Maybe I’ll publish it, as an appendix.”
Gay men have found that watching “The Inheritance” in a theatre filled with both older and younger generations is a charged experience. Terrence McNally, whose 1994 play, “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” reckoned with the aids crisis while it was ongoing, saw “The Inheritance” at the Young Vic. (His husband, Tom Kirdahy, is one of the show’s producers.) McNally told me that he has never had such a strong response to a play: “As an eighty-year-old survivor, observer, and participant of the many years covered in the play, it was as if someone were telling the story for the first time—so hot are its passions—and for the last time, with the compassion and wisdom we seek from our artists.” He added, “Matthew’s play is not about the aids experience—it is about the human experience. Only a stunted soul would not rise, soar, and expand to it.” Paul Hilton, who plays Walter Poole and Morgan, said, “I’ve never felt that sense of a communion with an audience—it’s the closest that I’ve ever felt to church in a theatre.”
Lopez says that, because of aids, embracing his sexuality entailed accepting an inheritance of grief. But this mourning felt abstract. He said, “It is so unimaginable for people of my generation, and certainly subsequent generations—how do you contemplate loss on that level?” Eric Glass, as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, has a personal connection to generational catastrophe, and is therefore better primed to comprehend the history of the gay community’s devastation. In one sequence, Walter tries to convey to Eric the scale of the tragedy by naming all his friends, a recitation that rises to a litany delivered by the chorus of men: “Daniel is dead. Stephen is infected. Brian’s partner has peripheral neuropathy. He screams in pain at the slightest touch. Scott is in Paris, hoping to get HPA-23. Javier went home to die in his mother’s house. Jonathan’s family won’t take him back. Brandon is dead. Matthew is dead.”
Lopez told me, “For my generation, it is as if a sibling had died before we were born—you are never quite sure why Mom and Dad are so sad. That person isn’t real to you—they are only real as a figment and a spectre. You only know the negative space. You don’t know what once filled it.”
In May, a work session for “The Inheritance” was held at a rehearsal studio in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. The intention was to tweak the show for the Broadway production, and, in particular, to clarify the narrative of Toby Darling, Eric’s boyfriend, who is played by Andrew Burnap. One of Lopez’s first inspirations in adapting “Howards End” was to turn the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, into boyfriends. Like Helen, who acts on sentiment, Toby is impetuous and often inconsiderate. In the play’s first scene, he recounts a party that he’s just attended in the Hamptons, where he got drunk and projectile-vomited on Meryl Streep: “You’ve seen ‘Sophie’s Choice’—I am so humiliated.”
Much of the body language that Burnap uses to convey Toby’s character—the way that, in greeting, he saunters over with a raised arm, anticipating an embrace—echoes Lopez’s own mannerisms. “Every time I see him, that is what happens, unless he is mad at me,” Burnap told me. Burnap plays Toby with a manic, exhilarating energy: he dances, stripped to a Speedo, at a rave in the Pines; he caustically challenges Morgan for hiding his sexuality. (“The great E. M. Forster, beloved by all the world. And secretly the gayest daisy in the field.”) While Eric Glass provides the play’s steady, slowly evolving center, Toby Darling’s orbit becomes increasingly erratic.
At the work session, Lopez and Stephen Daldry honed scenes in which Toby’s backstory is revealed through encounters with other characters. Toby, who initially appears to be a man of effortless confidence, has in fact strenuously constructed that identity. Lopez once told an interviewer, “Charm I can write in my sleep—honesty takes more effort.” This line could easily be delivered by Toby. Lopez told me, “We are trying to carve out Toby’s journey very clearly through the play—deepening Toby’s internal crisis before it becomes an external crisis.” He was sitting at a table next to Daldry, with sheaves of typescript in front of him. The actors were gathered at tables arranged in a horseshoe shape. The principal cast of the London production is being imported to Broadway virtually intact, and there was an atmosphere of fraternal reunion, as well as a sense of excitement that the play was finally coming to New York, where it belonged.

On a makeshift stage, Burnap and Samuel H. Levine, who plays Adam McDowell, Toby’s calculating protégé, ran through an early scene in which Toby, in order to escape a rainstorm, goes home with Adam, and discovers that Adam lives with his wealthy parents in a glamorous apartment near Lincoln Center. (After Toby spots a photograph of the McDowells with Barack Obama, Adam explains, “My mom went to law school with him. It broke her heart when I went to Yale.” Toby replies, “Yes, I’m sure that’s every mother’s nightmare.”) Adam, who aspires to be a famous actor, has read Toby’s seemingly autobiographical novel, “Loved Boy,” about Elan, a rich, sarcastic seventeen-year-old living on the Upper West Side. Daldry explained to the actors that Toby’s book is mediocre: “It’s a Y.A. novel—you could possibly read it in two minutes on the toilet.” The novel is to be adapted into a play, and, as Lopez put it, “Adam has his eyes on the part of Elan.” Lopez and Daldry wanted the scene to lay the groundwork for an eventual twist: Toby’s youth was drastically different from Elan’s charmed life.
“There was a line—we did it in the West End for a couple of performances, but then we cut it, because we thought we were belaboring the point,” Lopez said. “But maybe we need to belabor the point.” Using a laptop to flick through an earlier draft, he supplied the lines to the actors:
Adam: Your book is fairly autobiographical, isn’t it?
Toby: Well, what isn’t?
Lopez said, “The trick is to keep hammering in that Toby’s world is about as far away from Adam’s as possible.”
Lopez is an unusually active presence in the rehearsal room. David Lan, who was the Young Vic’s artistic director when “The Inheritance” had its première, told me, “During rehearsals, he was rewriting all the time. Every night, he would go back to his room and come in the next morning with new pages.” For the New York work session, Lopez had written a new scene to experiment with, for the beginning of Part 2. Leo, the indigent sex worker (also played by Levine), whom Toby once summoned by app and then forgot about, is fleeing the Strand after being caught shoplifting, and collides with Toby on the sidewalk. Later that day, Leo shows up at Toby’s apartment, ostensibly looking for a notebook that he dropped outside the bookstore. Toby, though, assumes that Leo wants to offer himself sexually:
Toby: Do you want to fuck?
Leo: I’m not actually—
Toby: Gay?
Leo: No, I’m just not—
Toby: Into me?
Leo: No, you’re very—
Toby: Thank you, so are you.
Lopez listened as the actors ran confidently through the swift, almost Sorkinesque dialogue. (In 2013, Lopez was a staff writer on “The Newsroom,” Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series; working in TV, Lopez said, taught him the importance of getting drafts down quickly, and not to be precious about his ideas.) As Burnap and Levine performed, Lopez interrupted them to trim lines. “We’re trying to streamline, which is important with a seven-hour play—the audience needs to know that someone’s flying the plane,” he said. “I always say, ‘I don’t care if you miss your train. I do care if you’re worrying about missing your train.’ ”
When, in 2012, Lopez proposed an adaptation of “Howards End” to Darko Tresnjak, at the time the artistic director of the Hartford Stage, he imagined that it would be straightforward. “My goal was so simple—all I wanted to do was to take my favorite novel and dive into it,” Lopez told me. But it soon became clear that Lopez’s exploration of Forster’s ideas, and his own, demanded a capacious form. “The Inheritance” reaches back to the beginning of the twentieth century, and looks ahead to the end of the twenty-first. The writing adopts multiple registers, from snappy dialogue to sprawling monologues. At one point, Walter Poole recounts his and his lover’s pasts, almost without interruption, for eighteen hundred words. It’s more like a section of a novel than like a speech in a play: “Henry was born in Ohio, in the late 1950s. He was a star of track and field. First in his class and president of the student body association. As American as an Aaron Copland symphony. He married Patricia Fitzgerald while still in college. Two sons arrived soon after and Henry was on his way to a life of success and diligence and robust Episcopalianism. And if strapping, ascendant young men with bright futures and beautiful families have secret desires and shameful urges, they hid them from the world, from themselves.”
In 2015, Lopez sent a draft of Part 1 to Elizabeth Williamson, Hartford’s associate artistic director. “I reached the end in tears—it was incredibly long, and very compelling,” she told me. The play seemed too ambitious to be presented in Hartford on its first outing—and it needed an accomplished director. Lopez’s agent, Olivier Sultan, sent the script to Daldry, who has directed everything from “An Inspector Calls,” on Broadway, to “The Crown,” on Netflix. Daldry told me, “It is very rare that you get an unsolicited script and you go, ‘This is something I would like to do.’ It happens just a few times in your life. This was one.”
Lopez finished a full draft of “The Inheritance” before Trump became President. Daldry suggested that he incorporate the election into the plot: addressing contemporary politics offered opportunities for exploring how the activism of the past might inform the present. “People had come to accept the idea that rights were rights,” Daldry told me. “And what we understand now is that they can be taken away from you really easily. ‘Act up, fight back’ is not a slogan from the eighties and nineties—it’s an active slogan that we need now.”
Because of its structure, ambition, and themes, “The Inheritance” invites comparison to “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s two-part epic of gay life in New York. “The Inheritance” was staged at a nonprofit theatre in London before moving to New York, as “Angels” had been; the choice gave Daldry and Lopez the chance to experiment without Broadway’s commercial pressures, in front of audiences less judgmentally familiar with the milieu depicted onstage. Although Lopez insists that he didn’t name Walter Poole for Prior Walter, the H.I.V.-infected protagonist of “Angels,” and that he wouldn’t have dared to emulate Kushner’s play, the debt is clear. The play’s final words—an injunction, “You live”—echo the blessing that Prior Walter bestows at the end of “Angels in America”: “More Life.
“The Inheritance” is less intellectually demanding than “Angels,” Kushner having endowed his masterwork with a complex cosmology drawing on Jewish mysticism and leftist political theory. Lopez’s play strikes an upper-middlebrow tone, with knowing remarks about “Jules et Jim” and Constantine Cavafy, the Greek poet, who was a friend of Forster’s. (“Ooh, which translation?” “Mendelsohn.” “The best.”) One book that isn’t mentioned, but might have been, is “A Little Life,” Hanya Yanagihara’s recent gay-trauma novel, with which “The Inheritance” shares a compulsive and, at times, lurid urgency—“The Inheritance” has a lot of sex and drugs, in addition to brunch and books. But Lopez is also unafraid to be stirring: of the Upper West Side home of Eric’s grandmother, he writes, “She watched John Kennedy’s death, Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Barack Obama’s election from the living room of this apartment. It was in this apartment that Miriam Glass became an American.” Theatregoers may sometimes feel that their emotions are being manipulated a touch too sure-handedly, but the play earns its cathartic amplitude.
Lopez says that the biggest theatrical influence on “The Inheritance” is “Gatz,” the two-part, eight-hour adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” by Elevator Repair Service, in which the entire novel is read aloud and enacted by an antic cast. Lopez saw it in 2010, and calls it “the greatest thing I’ve ever seen onstage.” “Gatz” helped inspire the use of what Lopez calls “self-narration” in “The Inheritance.” He said, “ ‘Reporting’ is a terrible word in drama—reported action is the most uninteresting thing. But characters can also report on what they’re feeling, and in ways that they wouldn’t share with another character. Eric and Leo do it a lot. Toby doesn’t—he almost always reports on action, not feeling, because it is too dangerous for him to do it.”
At the work session, Burnap and Levine continued reading aloud the new scene between Toby and Leo. In one of Lopez’s signature pivots, the arch banter transitions to something darkly moving: what Leo wants is not to turn a trick but to take a shower and do laundry. The chorus of actors narrates Toby’s seesawing interior thoughts: “Toby likes to be wanted but he hates to be needed”; “But Toby, drawn to both beauty and to danger, was helpless to resist”; “Toby knows how easily he could have shared this boy’s fate if Eric hadn’t rescued him all those years ago.” Finally, Toby shuts down this self-examination, saying aloud, “Toby pushes all thoughts of Eric to the back of his mind.”
When Lopez came home from his desk at the Brooklyn Writers Space, after a day working on “The Inheritance,” his husband could tell by his mood which character he’d focussed on. “Brandon would say, ‘It was a Toby day today, wasn’t it?’ ” Lopez told me. “On Toby days, I was a lot of fun to be around—a little much, but great dinner conversation.” Still, Toby was an unnerving creation: the very first scene of “The Inheritance” that Lopez wrote concerned Toby’s capacity for self-sabotage, his ability to wreck whatever stability he has achieved in his relationships. “I could write Toby because Toby’s me,” Lopez said. “I could get into his skin.”
Lopez moved to New York City on January 5, 2000. He’d written plays at the University of South Florida but was intimidated by graduates of the élite drama schools: Yale, Juilliard, N.Y.U. “Writing was this exalted thing, done by classy people,” he said. “I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a writer, and certainly not well enough educated.” But Lopez was a committed reader, and one of his first conversations with Clarke, which took place online, was about books they’d recently finished. “I may have said something about Anne Carson, whose ‘Autobiography of Red’ I had just read,” Clarke told me. “Matthew talked about Larry McMurtry.” Several characters in “The Inheritance” share an aspirational yearning for a cultural education in literature, classical music, and art—knowledge necessary to enter a certain kind of gay intellectual conversation. (At the New York work session, Lopez asked the actors to make sure they’d read Alan Hollinghurst’s notoriously explicit 1988 novel, “The Swimming Pool Library,” so that they’d appreciate the play’s sly reference to it.) In Part 2 of “The Inheritance,” Toby buys an entire library of books for Leo, their authors listed by the chorus of men: “Jane Austen. James Baldwin. Emily and Charlotte Brontë. Italo Calvino. Joan Didion. Charles Dickens. Ralph Ellison. F. Scott Fitzgerald. E. M. Forster. . . . Leo opened ‘Howards End’ and from the first sentence, his life forever changed.”
Lopez lived in Jersey City at first. He landed a few small acting jobs, but mostly he partied. “I loved being here—it was like an extended vacation,” he said. “I was of legal drinking age, and I had sort of figured out sex.” His preferred drug was alcohol, but he soon found a way to stay as alert as his friends who preferred cocaine: “When Red Bull came out, that was very exciting. I would be, like, ‘Just put Red Bull in it!’ My twenties were a bit of a blur.”
Lopez began writing in his spare time, and his début play, “The Whipping Man,” was staged in Montclair, New Jersey, in 2006, when he was twenty-nine. Set in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of the Civil War, it concerns a Confederate soldier, Caleb, who returns home, wounded, and encounters two of his family’s former slaves, Simon and John, who have converted to the family’s faith, Judaism. The play was staged at a number of regional theatres, and was produced Off Broadway in 2011. When the Times asked Lopez why he’d chosen to write about Jewish culture in the nineteenth century, he replied, “I don’t know if you need to belong to a certain group to tell a story. If you did, I would only write about gay Puerto Rican guys who live in Park Slope and have an obsession with stinky cheese.” In fact, he told me, the play has plenty of himself in it, for anyone who cares to look: “John is me. He’s angry, he’s rebellious, he’s certainly not where he wants to be. He has thwarted ambitions. He’s an alcoholic.”
After “The Whipping Man,” Lopez quit his day job and began writing full time. “Somewhere” (2011) is set in Hell’s Kitchen around 1960, during the demolitions that permitted the building of Lincoln Center, and draws on his family’s experience with the filming of “West Side Story.” He said of Leonard Bernstein’s musical, “I don’t know if that creative team could get away with writing that show today—there would be a hue and cry all over social media. But I don’t know a single Puerto Rican who doesn’t hold ‘West Side Story’ dear. It’s our story, and I don’t care that it was written by a bunch of white guys.” Lopez worked in a more contemporary vein with “Reverberation,” a drama about the relationship between two New Yorkers, Jonathan, a bereaved gay man, and Claire, a heterosexual woman. That play premièred at the Hartford Stage, in 2015. “I’m proud of the plays I wrote before ‘The Inheritance,’ and some of them are good, and there’s a lot of me in them,” he told me. “But it’s perhaps more storytelling, and less revealing.”
Making the transition from office worker to writer was not altogether easy for Lopez. Clarke, whom Lopez met in 2004, told me, “One of the things that he discovered is that writing is an intensely lonely career—you spend a lot of time with your own thoughts, sometimes in a dark room—and drinking became a more obvious outlet for some of his frustrations.”
Lopez soon spun out of control. Once, on the subway home after a binge, he was so out of it that a stranger helped him up to the street, hailed him a cab, and gave the driver twenty dollars for the fare. “I could just about remember my address,” Lopez said. “Dangerous stuff like that. There was a lot of waking up and not knowing what I did the night before.” He was living a dual existence: “On the one hand, I was finally getting to do all the things I’d been denied the chance to do—be a New Yorker, be unapologetically out, have fun, live with reckless abandon. But, on the other, I was dealing with the trauma of what I had left behind.” Lopez uses the word “trauma” advisedly, insisting that he didn’t have a terrible childhood. “But there was trauma, and, in the end, it almost exclusively had to do with my sexuality, and my feelings of otherness.”
Lopez alienated friends by becoming belligerent while drunk, and his alcohol abuse also strained his relationship with Clarke: he’d promise to cut back, make a short-lived effort to do so, then backslide. “I couldn’t be compassionate—to myself, or to other people,” Lopez told me. “It was a spiritual bankruptcy.” He felt that he had no identity outside of drinking. “I just hated myself. I liked living, but I hated my life.” One night in 2010, Lopez told me, he stumbled home at four in the morning: “I was maybe eighteen or twenty drinks in, and Brandon said, ‘That’s it—I’m done. One of us is moving out of this apartment.’ ” Lopez started calling friends, desperate to talk to someone, and eventually reached his younger brother, in Florida. “Later, he told me he thought Brandon had died, I was sobbing so much,” Lopez recalled. “My brother was the first person to whom I said the words ‘I’m an alcoholic.’ I was sitting on the kitchen floor, spilling Johnnie Walker Blue Label all over myself—going out in style.” Lopez didn’t enter rehab. Instead, he shakily embarked on a life of sobriety; he hasn’t had a drink in nearly nine years. “There was no going back after that scene,” he said. “Once you’ve played Lady Macbeth, you can never play Juliet again.”
During the London rehearsals for “The Inheritance,” Lopez spoke frankly about the ways in which his life informed his characters’ paths. John Benjamin Hickey, who plays Henry Wilcox, told me, “The play is about addiction, and how some people can recover and some cannot. In the same way, during the epidemic, there were a lot of people who died, and so many of the people left behind asked themselves, ‘Why not me? What did I do, or not do?’ I think Matthew’s way into the generational themes of the play are through the very specific lens of somebody who has suffered his own calamity and has come out the other side.” David Lan, of the Young Vic, says, “Matthew has inventedhimself in the writing of this play.”
Lopez told me, “I needed to write, for the first time ever, really, what it means to me to be a gay man. I wanted to write about that specific question, and that question only.” For critics who have noted that “The Inheritance” lacks any explicitly Latino characters, Lopez has a snappy answer: “If you want a play about what it means to be Puerto Rican and deal with housing in New York City, I invite you to explore my play ‘Somewhere.’ ” In his view, “The Inheritance” is informed by his experience as a Latino. “My Puerto Rican-ness distanced me from other people,” he said. “So ‘The Inheritance’ is a search, a desire, for a place in the world, and for identity.” But he finds the expectation that he will incorporate explicitly Latino themes demeaning. “They don’t just let Sonia Sotomayor only decide the Puerto Rican cases,” he said. “She decides all the cases.” As for taking inspiration from E. M. Forster, he said, “I don’t get to just do Lorca—I have as much right to access the canon as any white writer does.”
Not long ago, Lopez visited King’s College, Cambridge, where Forster spent most of his post-fiction-writing years, and whose Fellow Librarian, Peter Jones, administers Forster’s copyright. Jones told me, “I was pretty convinced on reading the play that this was something that Forster would have been very interested in. It presents Forster as he would have liked to see himself—as a guru to the young, and an adviser on their affairs.” Lopez was permitted to examine the manuscript of “Howards End.” He recalled, “It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to see his words, in his own hand.” In a coincidence so apt as to seem contrived, when Lopez turned to a random page his eyes fell on the words “Only connect.” “I broke down in tears,” Lopez said. “I pushed the manuscript away—I didn’t want to leave my physical mark on it.”
Lopez also looked at Forster’s so-called “locked diary,” in which the author inscribed his inner thoughts, and elliptically catalogued his sexual experiences, for sixty-odd years. “In 1967, he writes about how angry he is at society for causing him to be false—the obfuscation that he has to live through,” Lopez told me. Immersing himself in the text of “Howards End” felt strangely like reading a family history, Lopez said; claiming it for his own purposes, and reordering and restructuring it, felt like a kind of restitution. “We’re so far apart, and yet when I read his diaries—that’s me,” he said. “That’s me, a hundred years ago, as a closeted white man in England.”
Earlier this year, Lopez flew to London for the final West End performance of “The Inheritance.” Having developed a migraine, he was unable to watch most of Part 1, but by late afternoon he felt better. As the audience took a two-hour dinner break, he was in the Royal Room, a silk-lined suite off the mezzanine, chatting with friends who had also flown across the Atlantic for the occasion, and laughing about the fact that the box office had sold his seat. “I have such a good producer—‘Look, we’re a hundred and twenty pounds closer to recoupment!’ ” he said. “ ‘Lopez isn’t in? Great, sell that ticket.’ You have to admire it.”
In the manner of a Victorian triple-decker novel, “The Inheritance” has multiple endings and codas, and imagines one character in 2079—two hundred years after Forster’s birth. As the seven-hour mark drew near, Lopez sat with Stephen Daldry on a staircase at the rear of the orchestra, sobbing. After the curtain fell, Lopez and the cast and crew gathered in an upper lobby to raise a glass—Lopez stuck to club soda. In a speech, he said, “This whole year has been amazing, but what I cherish most of all is those first two months in the rehearsal studio, wrestling with this play, with you all.” He explained how he was coping with the aftermath. “The show has never ended,” he said. “The show is ongoing. The show is not the thing that is being torn apart on the stage. The show is the work that we did. The show is the year that we spent together. The show is the friendships that we have made, and the things we have learned.”
By the play’s end, Eric’s relationships with the other characters have reached a satisfying, novelistic resolution, and Eric has grieved and matured. “If Toby is who I was, then Eric Glass is who I am working to become,” Lopez told me, when we spoke in Brooklyn. “The Inheritance” concludes on a hopeful note, with a suggestion that, despite the current political darkness, a future exists in which gay men will still be free to be themselves. “I am not an idealist, but I am hopeful,” Lopez said, as we neared the end of our two-part marathon conversation. “I can’t not be, because, if I’m not hopeful, then what’s the point? Think of the epidemic. It must have been impossible for those living through those years to think that things would ever be good again. How do you put the world back together after that calamity?”
This had been the central question of all his work, he observed: “How, after the calamity of slavery and the Civil War, do you put a nation back together? In ‘Somewhere,’ after their home is destroyed, how does the family survive as a family when part of how they identify themselves is gone? How, in the midst of calamity, can you even perceive the future? That is something that has always interested me as a writer.” At the conclusion of “The Inheritance,” Lopez hopes to leave the audience in a state of grace. “We’re very proud of how we end the play, even though we know we do something that might be seen as indulgent,” he said. “There’s a lot of endings in this play. But there are a lot of endings in life.” ♦




January 10, 2019

Biggest Ever LGBT Asian Contemporary Art Show Coming To Bangkok











“Spectrosynthesis II” is the expanded second edition of a similar exhibition that the Sunpride Foundation co-presented at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2017.
Patrick Sun Kai-yit, the founder of Sunpride, announced today that the 2019 exhibition will be held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre from November 23.
“Thailand is a natural choice for us because Bangkok, like Taipei, is another home base for me outside of Hong Kong,” Sun said. “The city has always had a reputation for being friendly to the LGBT community, now strengthened by plans for a bill to legalise same-sex civil partnership.”

The foundation was also pleased to find a partner in the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), the city’s biggest contemporary art space, which promotes diversity and inclusiveness as part of its official mission, Sun added. More than 50 artists from various Asian countries will be included in the show, with works belonging to the foundation’s collection as well as loans. There will also be new commissions by artists such as Thailand’s Arin Rungjang and Jakkai Siributr.
Among the highlights will be photographs by the late Ren Hang, a young, gay, Chinese artist who left behind a series of striking portraits of his friends after taking his own life in 2017.
Enid TsuiEnid TsuiA Hong Kong-based charity that uses art to fight sexual-orientation discrimination is taking the largest ever LGBT Asian contemporary art exhibition to Bangkok in November










Sun compared Ren to Lionel Wendt, a Sri Lankan photographer who also died young.
“We will also be showing Wendt’s works, which were avant garde at the time and remain influential even though camera technology has improved a lot. Ren was also doing something nobody had ever done before when he documented his generation in China. I believe his work will live on,” he said.
The foundation will also bring selections from an extraordinary series called “The New Pre-Raphaelites” by India’s Sunil Gupta that it acquired recently. Gupta, who is HIV-positive and a vocal LGBT activist, borrows from Greek myths and Pre-Raphaelite ideals in his portrayal of same-sex couples in India, where there is very limited home-grown iconography that can be borrowed.
Other artists at the exhibition will include Dinh Q. Le, Maria Taniguchi, Ming Wong, Danh Vo and Samson Young. 
“Spectrosynthesis II is a project rather than just an exhibition,” said Pawit Mahasarinand, director of the BACC. “We are also planning, with many local partners, film screenings, stage performances, talks, forums and symposiums at our centre and at other venues. As we’re exploring these issues socially, culturally, politically as well as historically, we’d like to make sure that the public engage in this dialogue.”
Sun believes art can play a role in bridging the divide between policies and public opinion.
“That such a gap exists explains why in Taiwan, a referendum rejected the high court’s ruling that same-sex marriage ought to be allowed. The path to equality is never smooth, and art and culture may help change people’s views and encourage social acceptance,” he said.

The exhibition includes LGBT artists who may or may not make their sexuality explicit in their works, and heterosexual artists whose works feature LGBT themes.
Sun said that an artist’s sexual orientation is relevant to his or her art because all art reflects something about its creator.
“Even if artists don’t think their sexuality is relevant, their identity will still come through their work, I think. Also, the audience may find a fresh way of interpreting a work when it is shown in an LGBT exhibition. For example, Samson Young’s Muted Situation with the silenced choir may be seen in a different context here than when it was shown at the Venice Biennale,” he said. 
The word “spectrosynthesis” merges the words spectrum and photosynthesis, thus shining a light on the LGBT community’s rich and diverse history, he added.

Heading to Bangkok

  • Spectrosynthesis II will be held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre from November 23
  • More than 50 artists will feature, including Sunil Gupta, Arin Rungjang, Maria Taniguchi, Hong Kong’s Samson Young and the late Ren Hang



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