Tony-Winning Playwright Matthew López on Making History and Knowing Your History
Matthew López is the playwright of the final show in our 55th Season, The Legend of Georgia McBride.
Originally published by GBH News.
Last year, Matthew López became the first Latino writer to win a Tony Award for best play.
The Inheritance premiered in London in 2018 before moving to Broadway. Now, over two years after the pandemic forced the Broadway show to prematurely shut down, the play is returning to the stage. Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage will present the first regional theater production of The Inheritance, beginning on April 22.
Ahead of the first performance, Open Studio host Jared Bowen spoke with Matthew López about this work.
A reimagining of E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, López tells the story of three generations of gay men living in New York who are grappling with the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic. Ambitious in scope, The Inheritance is six and a half hours long, told in two parts.
López was 15 years old when he first saw the film Howard’s End. The effect that movie had on López prompted him to read Forster’s book on which it was based. López said he gained a greater appreciation of Forster through that text, but it took him a while to figure out why Howard’s End so deeply resonated with him.
“You know, I was a Puerto Rican kid from Florida. But upon reading that E.M. Forster was gay, that he was closeted all his life, that he was only out to his most intimate friends — that’s when I started to understand that ‘Howard’s End’ was the creation of a gay man. There was something connecting me to him through that,” he said. “Without knowing anything about myself — or him — it felt like he was speaking to me.”
Now it’s López whose work is speaking to others. When The Inheritance premiered in London, critics called it a “masterpiece” and compared it to Tony Kushner’s AIDS drama, Angels in America.
As someone who was born in 1977, López says he was a child when AIDS was devastating gay communities.
“Now I’m a grown man who has lived longer than many of the people who died of AIDS,” he said. “I think about what a tremendous upheaval it must have been to the fabric of gay lives all over the world.”
López said his perspective as a gay man has allowed him to understand the AIDS crisis, and that now is a good time to reflect on it.
“I think it’s the right amount of time to gain perspective, both by those who experienced it and those who were too young to,” he said. “I think that it’s possible that my generation, having grown up in the shadow of AIDS, is now old enough to have lived enough of our lives to understand what was lost by it, to understand what it must have felt like to be imperiled by it, to feel always in danger.”
When thinking about the responsibility younger generations have when it comes to knowing about the horrors of the 1980s AIDS crisis, López says it’s the duty of all generations to know what happened before they were born.
“You have to know your history, you have to know who started building the road that you’re on. Our lives are the sum total of the decisions that were made by people who came before us. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
López says when he was younger, he had a voracious appetite for knowledge about the queer community.
“I devoured gay literature, queer history, queer theory. My bookshelf was groaning under the weight of all those books. It was important to me because I wasn’t yet living it. I was studying it.”
Now, López is writing it.
He said he spent years building toward writing The Inheritance, because he knew how much time and effort it would take. But, he said, he had no idea it would end up being such a long play.
Going back to the man who inspired the show, López said he thinks a lot about E.M. Forster.
“He was very concerned at the end of his life that he made a terrible mistake by not coming out sooner — or at all,” he said. “I hope that this play is in part a way of rescuing his legacy as a gay man in the world.”