“I’m looking for that Cynthia Nixon moment,” John Benjamin Hickey says on a rare day off. “That impossible dream of having two things go at once.”
He’s referring to the time when Nixon was appearing in both Hurlyburly and The Real Thing every night on Broadway. And if things work out according to plan, Hickey will get his Nixon moment, in slightly altered fashion. Instead of acting on two stages, he’ll be appearing in The Inheritance at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (which officially opened November 17) while his directorial debut, Plaza Suite, plays the Hudson Theatre on the other side of Broadway this spring (with previews beginning March 13).
This season is shaping up to be another milestone in a career studded with them. A Tony winner for The Normal Heart—as well as a member of the original cast of Terrence McNally’s seminal gay dramedy Love! Valour! Compassion!—Hickey’s casting lends a sense of history to his role in The Inheritance, the two-part epic written by Matthew Lopez and directed by Stephen Daldry.
“There are inevitable comparisons to the world of Angels in America,” he says about that other two-parter. “But I think people are surprised [The Inheritance] is a comedy. Matthew is much more a spiritual heir apparent to Terrence McNally than he is to Tony [Kushner], both of whom shaped all of us in the theatre.”
Beginning in the very recent past, The Inheritance turns a gimlet gaze onto a modern generation of gay men. “Basically,” Hickey says, “it’s a play about NYC and how everything sort of sorts itself out for these people, and the people they meet and fall in love with, and the lives that are ruined and the lives that are saved.”
The play is also, Hickey stresses, very, very funny.
“It is so much fun to do because it’s so funny and so rich in human experience. And the audience watching it, it’s the opposite of, ‘This is important,’” Hickey says. “It feels like watching the greatest Netflix binge. The audience gasps and laughs and cries, so we’re all on the ride together.”
As for Plaza Suite, Hickey is looking forward to bringing back to Broadway a different kind of comedy. Starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, the revival will be the first Neil Simon play on Broadway since the playwright’s death in 2018. “I miss the way he crafted comedy,” Hickey says. “It’s not something you really hear anymore. So hopefully audiences will delight in being reminded of what this golden age of comedy in the theatre was and is.”
Between his two roles this season, no doubt they will.