Final Bow: Andrew Burnap Describes His Indescribable Time With The Inheritance
Matthew Lopez's two-part, cross-generational drama plays its final performance at the Barrymore Theatre on March 15.
[UPDATE: The Inheritance canceled its final performances from March 12-15 in accordance with government regulations.]
On March 15, Andrew Burnap puts the final button on his two-and-a-half-year, cross-continental journey with Matthew Lopez's Olivier Award-winning, two-part (and seven-hour) epic drama, The Inheritance.
Burnap stars as Toby Darling — a vivacious, talented, and deeply troubled playwright who unearths childhood demons as he grows his professional success. Darling also finds himself inside a tight-knit community of gay men, who are touched by the stories of men who survived the AIDS epidemic a generation before them.
The idea of "chosen family" suffuses the production, and has made its way to the cast, who have come to see the Barrymore Theatre like a childhood home with which they'll soon have to part. "The gathering place is no longer there," says Burnap, thinking ahead to life after The Inheritance during our retrospective Final Bow interview. "But hopefully the bonds that were made, make it impossible for us to let each other go."
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
"Get to the good stuff. If there isn't a dick in your mouth in the next minute I'm leaving." It's not necessarily my favorite line in the play but it's my favorite one to say.
2. What is your cast's best inside joke?
I hope he won't mind me saying this: One time, one of our cast members Jonathan [Burke]— his boyfriend's mother came to see the show. She walked to the front of the stage at the very start when we're all gathered onstage and exclaimed his name a couple times trying to get his attention, saying "Jonathan! Jonathan!" Now whenever we go out onstage before the show starts, we all start to say, "Jonathan!"
3. What was the worst technical difficulty you experienced during the run, and how was it handled?
Probably getting a nose bleed onstage. Out of absolutely nowhere I got a nose bleed, and trying to stop the blood flow was one of the great challenges of this run. I think many of the audience members thought it was just part of it because I didn't freak out and I said, "Oh my gosh and now my nose is bleeding." But this happened to me in college during a production of Much Ado About Nothing, so I have experience in the area.
4. What is the most interesting present you received at the stage door?
We had a group of women who came to see the show who baked us all cookies. That was a sweet little gift. But the most special gifts are people telling us their personal stories about their connection to the play after the play is done.
5. Who is the coolest person to come see the show?
Probably Justice Sotomayor. That was pretty freaking cool.
6. How do you mentally and physically prepare for your two-show days?
I have a warm-up that I do every day before the show, but two-show days in particular are mostly about tricking myself into thinking it's no big deal. If I start to think about what I'm going to have to go through over the next 12 hours, it's overwhelming. But if I can get into the mindset of just living moment to moment and not trying to attack the entire day, that really helps me settle. I also do a lot of yoga and breathing, and I take CBD oil to calm my nerves. But it's mostly just preparing my body to go through this thing all over again.
7. What about Toby has been the easiest for you to understand, and what about that character has been the most difficult for you to understand?
The easiest thing for me to understand about Toby is his appetite for life— his vitality, his vivacity, his desire to live life to the nth degree. That I found to be very attractive right away and something that was easy for me to tap into.
I think the hardest thing for me to tap into with Toby has been making his rather painful past real for me. I mean, that's always the challenge, isn't it? Rarely has the actor actually gone through the exact thing that the character has gone through. So having to dive into what could have possibly happened to Toby has been the most challenging part, but also the most rewarding. The thing you don't know how to do often teaches you the most.
8. What is the most unexpected thing you learned about the gay community through this show?
The thing that I knew the least about was the quite powerful head-turning done by New York State, New York City, and the United States government [during the AIDS epidemic]. Understanding how much the community was ignored by almost every administration that they came up against was profoundly heartbreaking to me. I don't know how you could possibly regain faith in the institutions of this country after they treated you this way. I had known a little bit about it, but I didn't know the extent to which the community, in their greatest time of need, was ignored and shunned and sent into the shadows to find their own way.
9. Fire Island or Provincetown?
Provincetown — but only because I'm a New England boy.
10. What will be the hardest part about saying goodbye to this show and this character?
The people. Even now thinking about it I get a little emotional. I will very much miss the opportunity to do this play each and every day, but the thing that I will mourn the most is not seeing these people at least five days a week. The bonds that have been forged, the relationships that have been made, the laughs that have been shared are beyond articulation — and if I tried to describe it I think it would lose some of its magic.