What Have We Inherited

Melissa Jarmel

Photo courtesy of Melissa Jarmel

While the fate of many Broadway shows remains to be determined, some have already announced closures. One show, The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez, was set to close on March 15th anyway, but the cast unwittingly took their last bow just a few days before, as the entirety of Broadway closed their doors on March 12th. This show has frequently been on my mind since the pandemic began to alter our existence. It was written about and for gay men in New York City, though the themes of inheritance are universal, so I thought I’d start with talking to one of my favorite people and theatre buddies, Dylan K., about his experience seeing the show. 

Dylan K.: I had absolutely no idea just how much The Inheritance would affect me. A bit of background: I’m an NYC-living cis gay man in his thirties grappling with my own identity as such, and The Inheritance is (at the surface) about NYC-living cis gay men in their thirties grappling with their own identities, too. Needless to say, I found the content of the play extremely personal. Before my cohort of 30-something gay men, the previous generation was hugely impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis. The disease itself is responsible for ending the lives of thousands of gay men who could have been the teachers, mentors, or friends I never got the chance to meet. I never fully considered all the ways the suffering of these men, their families and loved ones, as well as the stigmas still in society that stem from this time in history, have unconsciously shaped who I am today. Watching this play made me laugh a lot. But I also cried a lot, too. For me, that is why I go to the theater. To me, The Inheritance felt like a full-length mirror, placing at the forefront many ideas and questions about myself that I had buried deep in my subconscious. 

Melissa Jarmel: What will you carry most with you from this play? 

DK: The Inheritance made me deeply think about who I am today by understanding what came before me and forced me to question what I can offer to those who will come after me. The show teaches the consequences that come from not acknowledging or accepting one’s history, as well as it demonstrates the harm of holding too tightly to the past. The Inheritance made me realize there is so much I don’t know about the history of gay men in America and made me think hard about what kind of mentor I can be down the road. It made me realize that cross-generational communication isn’t properly celebrated in the gay community. I have a lot to learn from those who are older and younger than me. The Inheritance made me want to be a better listener. Also, we all have inherited a great deal from those who came before us, whether we are aware of it or not. 

Dylan was not alone in the laughter and tears he mentioned watching this play. When I attended, the largely male audience was audibly connecting with the show in a visceral way to a degree that is rare to experience en masse at the theatre. While the play toed the line of being pedantic at times, it clearly struck a nerve with many theatre-goers. Though there is one scene in particular that has been replaying in my mind since New York went on pause. The group of friends are discussing politics and one of them likens America to a living organism that you can break down into its cellular components, so if you could find a way to heal the cells, you could heal the body. Another friend runs with the analogy and reminds his friends that T-cells, specifically, are what alert the body that there is an infection, but HIV targets these cells that are supposed to be our watchful guardians. 

He goes on to say, “…if America is an organism and if its T-cells are its democracy, then what about [Trump]? Where does he fit in this analogy? You could say he is HIV: a cunning, pernicious retrovirus that has attached himself to the very core of American democracy and is now destroying the American Immune System: journalism, activism, politics, and even voting. And, like HIV, he is replicating his genetic material from tweet to tweet, from person to person, institution to institution, across the entire nation. Consequently, America is now falling prey to opportunistic infections its immune system had once been able to fight: fear, propaganda, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, white nationalism. And so, like any person with untreated HIV, you could say this nation has developed the American Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Let’s just call it what it is and diagnose it properly: America. Has. AIDS.” 

These are strong words, but maybe they’re not strong enough, especially in light of how the people the current president of the United States put in charge of this nation have failed to adequately inform and protect the American public throughout this pandemic. I’m not the first to draw parallels to the HIV/AIDS crisis and what is happening now, but when Dylan spoke of the loss of mentors and friends due to what happened then, my heart not only mourns for the thousands of families that are mourning their loved ones who have passed away due to COVID-19 but also for the future generations that have lost these thousands of lights as well. 

Theatres in New York City are officially closed until June 7th, but a recent interview with the president of the Broadway League revealed that the community is expecting an opening date of September or later. The Public Theater has also announced that there will not be Shakespeare in the Park performances this summer; however, for the first time in forty years, a recording of a previous summer 2019 production, Much Ado About Nothing, is available for free to stream until May 26th. The Globe Theatre in London is also streaming a previous Shakespearean production every two weeks for free. And Broadway World has compiled a list of 157 shows you can watch at home. Hopefully, we will be back in the theatres before the year’s end, but until then, I’m grateful that we have at least inherited all of these streaming options.