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‘The Inheritance’ Review: So Many Men, So Much Time

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Ardent aspiration glows in every moment of Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance,” which opened on Sunday at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. That is, to be sure, a whole lot of moments.

This two-part, novelistic doorstop of a play, a portrait of 21st-century gay men in search of their collective past, occupies more than six hours of stage time. And everything about it — its themes, its form, its frame of reference and the desires of its characters — is of a scale with its length.

Consider, to begin with, that Lopez — whose earlier, respectfully received plays (“The Whipping Man,” “The Legend of Georgia McBride”) scarcely anticipated a blockbuster like this one — is making his Broadway debut with a work that courts direct comparison with two daunting predecessors. They would be“Howards End,” E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel of England at a moral crossroads, and “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s two-part, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama from the early 1990s about the beleaguered soul of gay America (which was spectacularly revived only last year).

The young New Yorkers who populate “The Inheritance,” directed with a forward-charging breathlessness by Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot”), all dream big as well. At their noblest, they’re searching to summon the gay pioneers of the past who made their present lives possible.

And who should they enlist as their spirit guide in this endeavor but Forster himself? Portrayed with wide-eyed curiosity and a diffident mien by the British actor Paul Hilton, Forster steps out of the past and into the play’s opening scene like a tutelary don strolling through a campus quad, where clean-cut acolytes sprawl and frolic like models for a J. Crew back-to-college catalog.

Forster generously gives the boys of “The Inheritance” his blessing to use “Howards End” as the template for the story they’re telling. He even lets them construct a variation on its opening line for their starting point, so that “One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister,” becomes, “One may as well begin with Toby’s voice mails to his boyfriend.”

That tale is set in a Darwinian New York City where “every summer, waves of college graduates wash up on its shores to begin the struggle toward success and achievement.” The description is delivered early by one of the show’s narrators (and in this play, everybody’s a third-person narrator as well as a first-person character). At that point, you may be tempted to think “The Inheritance” has as much in common with the vintage naïfs-in-the-big-city potboilers of Rona Jaffe and Jacqueline Susann as it does with “Howards End.”

The combination of skyscraping reach and soap opera-ish pulp makes “The Inheritance” both easy to make fun of and hard to dislike. First staged in London, where it won the Olivier Award for best new play, the script merges the self-consciousness and avidity of its creator, Lopez, with that of its dramatis personae, who are in effect making up the work in which they appear as they go along.

Yes, Henry Wilcox is an important figure in “Howards End.” And, yes, like that Henry, this one has a country house that becomes the moral nucleus of the work he belongs to. Lopez’s use of that house — as a window into the generation of gay men lost to AIDS — packs the play’s most devastating emotional punch.

I challenge any theatergoer with a heart not to cry during the sun-saturated scene that concludes the first half of “The Inheritance.” Never mind that it’s partly borrowed from the 1989 movie “Longtime Companion.” This bravura sequence is a vibrant and essential reminder of the terrifying years when a diagnosis of H.I.V. was a death sentence.

That effort to conjure a nightmare era in danger of being forgotten by many young people today captures what’s best in “The Inheritance.” It yearns, with an almost physical intensity, to realize the much-quoted dictum from “Howards End”: “Only connect.”

For Lopez, that means forging bonds not only with a previous, decimated generation of gay men in New York but also between the rich and the poor, the right and the left, the prosaically minded and the poets. That’s a hell of a lot of territory to cover, even with six hours as a playing field, especially if you’re trying to establish point-by-point parallels with events in “Howards End.”

The show features a bright assortment of political and cultural debates, given spirited life by the baker’s dozen of male cast members and replete with of-the-moment name dropping. There’s even an amusing conversation about the enduring value of camp as a part of the gay sensibility.

That last discussion acquires unintended relevance during scenes of heavy-breathing confrontation. (“I once loved you, Toby, but I am cured of that. Everything you touch you destroy.”)

Such vignettes, and those that portray the heart-smashing theater world in which Toby operates, had me thinking of the Douglas Sirk weepie “Imitation of Life” and wondering if camp clichés are now so genetically encoded into gay culture that they’re recycled without reference to (or even awareness of) their original contexts. Yet there’s rarely anything arch about Lopez’s highly explicit descriptions of erotic encounters (rendered with nonexplicit, metaphoric choreography). And the rapturous monologue by Adam (the young actor played by Levine) about a long session in a gay bathhouse in Prague is notable for its haunted ambivalence about transcendent, dangerous sex.

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The More (and More) the Merrier

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Never mind that old Coco Chanel chestnut about taking one thing off before walking out the door. Today, you may want to add more to the mix.

One of the current preoccupations of fine jewelry collectors is an assemblage of necklaces that is layered, personal and playfully disheveled (or artfully edited, as the case may be). It is an ideal display for items à la mode — initial necklaces, chains, coin pendants — and whatever else finds its way into the jumble.

(The look even has an Instagram nickname: the #neckmess. Coined in 2016 by the Rhode Island-based designer Jessica Kagan Cushman, the term has made it into jewelry vernacular.)

According to Lauren Kulchinsky Levison, the vice president of the East Hampton boutique Mayfair Rocks, the practice of stacking and staggering necklaces is an approach favored by clients who “want to wear jewelry in a more magical way,” rather than the blunt force of big statement pieces. “Any jewelry designer who isn’t making necklaces that can be added into someone’s daily look and combine with all the other designers out there is missing out.”

One of those women, Lucy Wallace Eustice, co-founder of the handbag brand MZ Wallace, met her match in two jewelry labels that have been around for less than a decade: Marla Aaron and Foundrae. Both instill elements of storytelling in their outputs.

The foundation of the Aaron collection is a range of chains and locks, hardware-inspired elements (often bejeweled or engraved) that function as pendants or charm holders, or that can be joined together to create bracelets, necklaces or other adornments. Foundrae primarily creates jewelry and medallions embellished with symbols representing themes like resilience and trust.

Ms. Wallace Eustice’s daily changing lineup of necklaces draws heavily from both lines. She also incorporates finds she has amassed over the years, like a Cartier strand of petite gold balls and a crimson bead from a Left Bank vintage boutique in Paris that she adds to other pieces. The flexibility to mix and remix different elements of a necklace — pendants and charms, chains and beads — fits neatly into current thinking about conscious consumption: buying less and buying thoughtfully.

Part of the fun of the layered necklace look is “restyling it,” Ms. Wallace Eustice said. “You get a variety of looks out of fewer things that you mix up in different ways. It’s not prescriptive.”

Building a better #neckmess may not be prescriptive, but sometimes it might be curative. “We’re all at a point of searching for answers because things are so out of control,” the actress Busy Philipps said. At a moment when she was looking for what she described as “a daily reminder to stay grounded and let go,” she began collecting crystal necklaces, jewels that for millenniums have figured in mystical lore. And she said she discovered makers of “crystal and intention-based jewelry,” like Rock & Raw Jewellery, — who create pieces that are markedly more fashionable than the versions of yore.

New arrivals have joined her crystal talismans. First came a strand of opal beads (then another) from her close friend, the Los Angeles-based jeweler Irene Neuwirth. Those were followed by a zodiac pendant representing Ms. Philipps’s birth sign, Cancer, and a rainbow-colored tennis necklace from The Last Line.



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‘A Million Little Pieces’ Review: Cracking Up

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Adapting James Frey’s infamously fictionalized memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” the director Sam Taylor-Johnson niftily elides the book’s truthiness problem with an introductory quotation from Mark Twain.

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened,” it reads, before we see a physically wrecked James (vividly played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the director’s husband and screenwriting partner) slouched on a plane and headed to a Minnesota clinic. A substance abuser since childhood (crack and alcohol are his favorites), James is now 23 and one drink away from almost certain death.

So begins yet another ruin-and-rehab tale, one that initially tantalizes then flatly disappoints. In an intensely physical performance, Taylor-Johnson leaps and writhes and trembles through treatment as James endures a root canal, a broken-nose reset and a clarinet-playing roommate — all without anesthesia. Yet there’s no hint of what drove him to destroy himself and not a single reason for the audience to invest in his recovery.

Looking elsewhere for entertainment, we find an affable Billy Bob Thornton as a laid-back rehab regular, and a very touching Odessa Young as Lilly, James’s fragile love interest. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is often eloquent and more creative than the script, especially in the film’s euphoric opening as James dances wildly, naked and out of his mind. Later, as he and Lilly slowly circle each other in an intimate, forbidden conversation, the camera hovers so protectively we wonder if it knows something that we don’t.

Moments like these brighten a movie that’s otherwise dull and sadly unmemorable. Mostly, it just reminded me how much I enjoy Billy Bob Thornton.

A Million Little Pieces

Rated R for unmediated dentistry and unruly penises. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes.

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Taylor Swift’s Song ”Christmas Tree Farm” Is a Magical Masterpiece

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She’s done it again! 

The reigning queen of modern pop is back with new music, but this time, it’s a Christmas song!

Taylor Swift unveiled her soon-to-be hit song Christmas Tree Farm.” The singer announced the news on Thursday via Twitter to adoring fans. “When in doubt, ask the itty bitty pretty kitty committee,” she tweeted out alongside a video talking to her cat Meredith. “When they shun you with silence, ambivalence, and judgmental brush offs…just put the song out anyway. NEW XMAS SONG AND VIDEO (made from home videos.) OUT TONIGHT.” 

Thank goodness Meredith agreed to release the song, because fans were treated to what is sure to be a classic Christmas staple for years to come. For those not up to speed with Taylor’s life story, she spent a lot of her childhood on her families Christmas tree farm, which makes this single extra special. 

From all of the personal home footage from the video and the intimate lyrics, this song paints a picture of a beautiful and idealistic time of year for the musician. Undoubtedly one of her most personal pieces yet. 

“I actually did grow up on a Christmas tree farm,” she also tweeted. “In a gingerbread house, deep within the yummy gummy gumdrop forest. Where, funnily enough, this song is their national anthem.”

The song and video is set to debut on Friday morning on Good Morning America as well. This isn’t Taylor’s first foray into holiday music either. 

She released Taylor Swift Holiday Collection EP in October 2007. That album, however, featured covers of George Michael’s “Last Christmas,” “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Santa Baby” and her original songs “Christmases When You Were Mine” and “Christmas Must Be Something More.”

Hopefully Taylor and Meredith have more holiday music up their sleeve! 

E! News returns Monday, Jan. 6 at 7 a.m.!



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