As a Puerto Rican teenager living in Florida, Matthew Lopez found unexpected kindred spirits in Merchant Ivory’s film adaptation of Howards End. “There was nothing that could have explained it,” he admits, “I was watching a movie about white Edwardians squabbling over a country estate in England.”
Nevertheless, the story struck a chord and the E.M. Forster novel that inspired the movie became a mainstay on his shelf. Upon his fifth or sixth read, Lopez, then in his late 20s, noticed an author bio that confirmed what he could only surmise: Forster was, like Lopez, a closeted gay man.
“It was that moment I realized what contributed to his ability to understand human nature and write from both an insider and outsider’s perspective. It was inescapable—and it is inescapable—that if he hadn’t been queer, he would not have been able to write any of those books.”
The realization was a light switch, illuminating context to Lopez’s fascination with the writer and his perception of humanity. It also underscores a responsibility that Forster was not afforded: “to write representatively of the multiple communities I belong to when I have the right project for it.”
The Inheritance is one such right project. The two-part play riffs on Howards End to explore the intergenerational connections between gay men in New York City, two decades after the height of the AIDS crisis. The play, drawn largely from Lopez’s personal experiences, marks the writer’s Broadway debut following an Olivier-winning London world premiere. “I never want to limit myself because there are plenty who would be happy to do that for me,” he says, “but I also never want to stifle myself from the expression of my heart and how I see and have experienced the world.”
To put it bluntly, “I decided to roll up my sleeves and write something that was unquestionably gay. I mean, gay gay gay.”
In The Inheritance, a spiritual representation of Forster, thanks the play’s inhabitants for showing him a world he himself could not embody. Lopez, however, joins a line of playwrights to openly tell queer stories and to see audiences respond to them.
“There is a great solace in learning you’re not special, because sometimes the thing that makes us special is what kills us,” he says. “Knowing I’m part of the continuum not just of like-oriented people but of people who have felt as I have felt has consoled me more than anything ever has.”
“Working on this play—and reliving this play through an audience experience—has made me feel a lot less lonely in the world.”