For Actor Mark H. Dold, 'The Inheritance' Is Part of his DNA

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Monday June 6, 2022

Mark L. Dold
Mark L. Dold  

In Matthew Lopez's extraordinary two-part "The Inheritance," actor Mark H. Dold may have the most difficult role. Or two roles, because in this six-hour plus drama he plays both Walter, an older gay man around whose country house the play evolves, and Morgan, a stand-in for author E.M. Forster who acts as a mentor to the company of actors telling a contemporary story based on his 1910 novel "Howards End."

What is likely the most challenging moment for Dold comes at the end of the first act of the first part when Walter, a survivor of the AIDS epidemic, tells the tale of the county house he turned into a refuge for victims of the disease in the 1980s, estranging his partner Henry Wilcox in the process. As in Forster's novel, a country house is a pivotal link that brings together a disparate group of characters, who include Eric Glass, a Millennial gay man who befriends Walter at a vulnerable moment. And his speech, which spreads over some eight pages in the printed text, brings to the forefront the play's larger themes of how the past impacts upon the present.

The speech is a mammoth challenge for most actors, but Dold has an advantage of sorts: He previously understudied the role for the play's New York production in 2019, after it transferred from London with most of its original cast intact. Still, even without this previous association, a 10-minute-plus speech, one that leaves many in the audience in tears, is something that would stymie most actors.

EDGE spoke to the New York-based actor about the challenges of the role, his association with the play, and that difficult speech.

Mark H. Dold and Brandon Curry in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.
Mark H. Dold and Brandon Curry in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.  

EDGE: You were part of the original Broadway company of "The Inheritance," which closed early because of COVID. Now you are in a production that has been closed down repeatedly due to COVID. It seems that it is impossible these days to produce the play without it being impacted by COVID...

Mark H. Dold: Yeah, you know, it's so funny. My mother just said the exact same thing. She's like, 'Why won't COVID let you do this play?' Because the same thing happened in New York. But we, I have to try to stay as positive as possible. But I do catch myself in this moment. Like, 'Why am I sitting in Boston? My life and my family are back in New York? And should I get on a train?'

EDGE: What is it like to return to the stage after the pandemic?

Mark H. Dold: The great thing about this space is that it's so intimate. You feel the presence of the audience as if they are part of the production. And while I can't see their faces because they are masked, I can still see the whites of people's eyes, I can still see people's pupils. And I can see them crying. In a weird way, seeing somebody weeping with a mask is oddly haunting in a way that I hadn't expected. Yeah, it's just all such a peculiar time. And I was hoping that we would be beyond it.

Mishka Yarovoy and Mark H. Dold in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.
Mishka Yarovoy and Mark H. Dold in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.  

EDGE: And you may have a second Wiki entry in being the first actor to appear in the first two U.S. productions of "The Inheritance," first in New York, now in Boston. Having lived with both of them, how different are they?

Mark H. Dold: You know, it's so funny, one of the other New York actors who's become a very dear friend just came into town and saw the show. And I asked him the exact same question. There's something about the intimacy, of course. This play deals with the big, big, big feelings, and with the deep, deep, deep, small feelings, sometimes simultaneously at the flip of a switch. But the mysterious thing about the Speakeasy Stage is that while it is incredibly intimate, it is also, oddly, quite large at the same time due to the vastness of the height. So you can't take the space for granted. In my actor's opinion, you can't assume that you're playing in a tiny little black box, because in fact, you're not. However, that being said, you can be intimate with the show in a way you couldn't at the Barrymore. There you've got 1400 seats, you've got a proscenium, the nearest audience members are 50 feet away from you.

But I think the trickiest thing for me having had both experiences was to give myself the permission to shed the DNA of the New York experience and let this production exist just on its own. Let it be its own baby. And let us honor the work in this way. It took me some time. I must admit, I had a few moments where I was like, that's not how the scenes is played, etc., because I've seen it done so beautifully. And in my work, in my opinion, kind of perfectly in New York.

I just had to keep actively reminding myself this at the beginning. And possibly it was because of a little fear. Because, you know, I was understudying the role in New York. And here I was finally playing it. And maybe, in the back of my head, I had a little bit of anxiety about, 'Oh, am I actually going to be any good?' Yep.

Mishka Yarovoy, Jared Reinfeldt, and Mark H. Dold in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.
Mishka Yarovoy, Jared Reinfeldt, and Mark H. Dold in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.  

EDGE: Having understudied two major roles — Walter and Henry — did you ever get to go on?

Mark H. Dold: No, I didn't. But I did get to play Walter in a very peculiar way, not in front of a live audience. During rehearsals when the magnificent British actor Paul Hilton, who had originated the role in London, had visa issues and the director Stephen Daldry came up to me on the first day of rehearsal and dropped the script in my hand and said: "Well, Paul's not coming. Paul's not here. And we have no idea when he's arriving in the country. And we have to proceed. So here's your script. And there's your first entrance. And let's begin."

And so for the first 12 days, in rehearsal, I did, in fact, I guess you could say, played the part with all of the new lads. Then, on day 13, Paul walked into the room and there was a weird moment of adjustment for everyone, because again, the boys in the room had become so used to me and I had become so used to them. As far as they knew, I was their Morgan. But no, I never got to perform the role in front of a live audience. There were eight understudies, and only two did not go on. And unfortunately, I was one of them. There were dates scheduled, etc. People were going to take vacations, etc. But then COVID had other plans.

There was also a moment when I was to go on for John Benjamin Hickey (who played Henry Wilcox) because he was having to step out of the production for a short while. But when all the powers that be got into a room and finally saw how long he needed to be gone, which was ending up being some three months, they decided to bring in a more recognizable actor. It's a tricky position of being an understudy. Steven Daldry very beautifully came up to me in rehearsal one day and said, 'Listen, we just cannot be without you. And we decided the best thing to do for the show is to hire someone to replace him for three months.' And that's what Tony Goldwyn came in.

Mark H. Dold and the members of the cast of SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.
Mark H. Dold and the members of the cast of SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.  

EDGE: All of this must be frustrating, though. Spending all that time on the play and never getting to perform...

Mark H. Dold: Being an understudy is a job that I have profound respect for, especially people that can do it well. But it is work that I do not seek out. In fact, I actively avoid it and turn it down. I just don't have the actor DNA for it. I need a process, I need to understand the nuts and bolts of what I'm doing. But this came about after I had heard about these plays in 2017 when I was at Hartford Stage doing a production of "Cloud Nine" that was being directed by the associate artistic director, whose name is Elizabeth Williamson. She was also the dramaturg on this play called "The inheritance." And Matthew (Lopez) was coming in and out of town to talk to her. So I actually met him in 2017. He came to see our show. And as Elizabeth was telling me more and more and more about it, I became obsessed with the story. That was in 2017.

Cut to 2019. I'm at the Old Globe in San Diego and the phone rings. It's my agent telling me about this play coming from London called "The Inheritance," and the only way I could be in it was to be an understudy. The roles of actors my age were being played by the actors who played them in London. Normally, I would have said absolutely not. But I immediately said, 'Absolutely. I will do anything to be in this.' And I still hadn't read the play. I just had known about it. I knew that it was based on "Howards End," I could fill in some of the other blanks based on what Elizabeth had told me. When I did read it, I was floored -- I don't know what word to use. I mean, I was I couldn't breathe, basically. I just knew I wanted to be part of this. And I don't regret it.

Mark H. Dold, Dennis Trainor Jr., and the members of the cast of SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.
Mark H. Dold, Dennis Trainor Jr., and the members of the cast of SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.  

EDGE: And now that you are playing Walter and Morgan, what it is like?

Mark H. Dold: I feel like those 10 months were preparation for this. And also, all of that hard work. It is a gift to me from the universe as a reward. And when I am on stage playing it, I think I could do so for years.

EDGE:Would you like to play Henry?

Mark H. Dold: I actually don't have interest in Henry. I know they cast me as his understudy as well, but my spirit is so much more aligned with Walter Poole and the EM Forster role, Morgan.

EDGE: Walter has one of the longest and most eloquent speeches in the play at the end of the first act. It is more than ten minutes and builds to one of the production's most touching moments. How do you prepare for that speech?

Mark H. Dold: I don't know how to describe it. But it's just something that I feel intuitively. And I just have to get out of its way. But it does make me think about myself and my own history. I'm younger than Walter. And I remember when I first moved to New York, after graduating from Boston University, AIDS was very real. It was the late '80s and I was also a closeted homosexual. I was basically engaged to be married until I was 26. And didn't come out until I was 26. And living in New York, you could see the face of AIDS when you walked the streets, just as Walter does when he meets his friend Peter West.

And it kept me in the closet. I wondered, 'Who will I be if I come out? Will this happen to me?' I was raised with Catholicism, etc, I was already going to burn in hell. And now not only was I going to burn in hell, was I going to die a miserable death beforehand?

So how do I prepare for that speech? I don't know. It's one of those crazy, weird actor things. But I just understand that I can't really explain it. I also know what it's like to be sick. Personally, I don't mind if you write that I am a cancer survivor. I battled bladder cancer for eight years, and then had a massive kind of transformational surgery in 2017 and the recovery was fairly harrowing. It's just like I said earlier, there's something about these roles. I just feel very aligned with these men and attuned to these men. I also find myself in a place in my life, where I am now older and looking at younger gay men and younger actors in particular, and trying to mentor them in this business. And that's exactly what Morgan is doing in the play. It's strange. I mean, the stories that I'm telling are both of these characters on stage right now, but are really very closely aligned with the stories that I've been telling in my own life over the past few years.

Mark H. Dold and Mishka Yarovoy in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.
Mark H. Dold and Mishka Yarovoy in SpeakEasy Stage's "The Inheritance." Photo by Nile Scott Studios.  

EDGE: Did you have any concerns about the play losing any of its relevancy since it was first performed?

Mark L. Dold: Funny, in a weird way, I was wondering if the script is going to become dated, because it deals with Trump and Hillary, etc. But with everything that's going on with the Supreme Court right now, I find the play more relevant than I thought. I do see the play as something of a time stamp. But, I think the brilliance of a play really comes with the way in which Matthew transposes Forster's narrative onto his own. And that he gives it time to develop the larger theme, which is, what do we mean to one another? What do we leave next to the next generations? How do we help one another? Yes, those stories will never ever expire.

EDGE: While the play has received huge accolades, some critics have called it too melodramatic, most notably in the second half. What do you think of those comments?

Mark H. Dold: There are huge melodramatic highs and lows in "Howard's End." They're enormous. I don't think they're too melodramatic. I don't know what life they're living. But it seems pretty spot-on to me in terms of its emotional highs and lows. None of it seems unrealistic to me. I don't see how anyone could say that. It may be too much drama for someone; maybe that's what they're trying to say. It may be too realistic. I don't know. But I find it so kind of spot-on.

"The Inheritance" continues through June 11, 2022 presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 537 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For more information, follow this link.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].