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A CurtainUp Review
The Voysey Inheritance
By Elyse Sommer
I arrived at the Atlantic a bit early and as I sat in the lobby I was puzzled to hear sounds of group singing emanating from inside the theater. But while Mamet has adeptly trimmed Granville-Barker's 1905 drama to clock in at two hours instead of close to three, he hasn't turned it into a musical. The singing at the beginning of two scenes is a charming as well as practical touch by director David Warren that effectively establishes time and mood.
Mr. Mamet's script may be slimmed down but it retains the original play's pungency. The Voysey family business — a trust and estate law firm that has supported the family's luxurious life style from mismanaged funds entrusted to its stewardship— symbolized the whole two-faced society that prevailed when this play was written. The upswing in scandals of ever growing magnitude and a government with many corrupt and dissembling officials who, like Mr. Voysey, "tell you no unnecessary lies". has become even more timely than it already was when I saw the Mint version. This ever increasing relevancy is intensified by Mamet's tight adaptation.
Despite excisions of some characters and secondary plot elements, this new text maintains the overall tone of Mr. Granville-Barker's era (don't expect tough Mamet-speak) and sticks to the story line: The head of the family law firm has brought his son Edward aboard as his partner and heir. The younger man is appalled to discover the truth about his "inheritance" — a business built on deception and facing bankruptcy and disgrace thanks to his father's habit of speculating in the stock market with his clients money, speculation which has in recent years eaten away most of their capital. Edward's suave father shrugs off his distress by explaining that this practice began with his own father when he founded the firm. After his father's death Edward must deal with the ethical dilemma of doing the right thing but that's not the whole story. There are all the other characters affected by the state of the House of Voysey to give this drama its fullness and bite.
Harley-Barker's play is strong enough to withstand Mamet's abandoning some secondary plot developments and characters. The text's enduring power and subtlety plus a sublime cast and smashing production values adds up to one of the best theatrical evenings on offer in New York.
Given all the scantily cast plays that dominate the theatrical landscape, it's a pleasure to be able to say that there are too many actors (12 in all) on this stage to praise each in detail., though all deserve a stand-up round of applause. If there are any stars in this sublime ensemble, it's the actors playing the men at the heart of the moral dilemma affecting everyone who enters the elegant living room of the Voysey estate: Fritz Weaver as Mr. Voysey, the family patriarch, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward, the son and heir.
Weaver brings a self-confident, upper class bravado to the role of the scoundrelly Mr.Voysey and makes one wish he didn't have to disappear and die at the end of the first scene. Stuhlbarg, who has outstandingly portrayed a great variety of characters on and off Broadway, is perfection as the sensitive, honorable Edward. His tension and depth of feeling is evident even when he's sitting in a corner while everyone else chatters away.
The women characters add a good deal to this picture of a wealthy social group. (All excellent, and especially so Samantha Soule as Edward's beloved and Katharine Powell as the the late Mr. Voysey's widow who knew how to turn a deaf ear to unpleasant truths long before becoming hearing impaired). I was initially disappointed that Beatrice Voysey, the most interesting female character in the Mint production was dropped from this adaptation. However, Mamet has compensated for this by bringing in her husband Hugh (unseen at the Mint but played by Todd Weeks here) on stage and thus letting the four brothers wrangle out this knotty situation from their very different personal perspectives.
The script allows for both the confrontation between Voysey elder and younger and the chilling scene between Mr. Peacy (Steven Goldstein), the smarmy always available office assistant and secret keeper to be played out on a single set. Derek McLane's richly detailed drawing room of the Voyseys' Chiselhurst mansion is beyond gorgeous but really characterizes the family's luxurious life style. If Soames Forsythe, the art-collecting tycoon of John Galsworthy's Forsythe Saga were to drop in on the Voyseys, he might well suggest that those wall to wall gold framed paintings might just fetch enough money to fill a good many of those empty trust accounts. The lusciousness of McLane's set is matched by Gregory Gale's costumes.
Some of the most telling dialogue goes to the sarcastic, black sheep brother Trenchard (Christopher Duva). When he sarcastically puts down lawyers ("a lot of money knocking around and no audit ever required. The wonder to me is to find an honest solicitor at all.") he refers to small family businesses like his father's law firm. He could also be talking about sleazy real estate entrepreneurs like the ones in Mamet's Glengary Glen Ross — and nowadays the big corporations' whose top guns leave their small investors broke as they bail out with golden parachutes. So is this turn of the century play, timely? You bet.
The Mint Company's Voysey Inheritance
The Voysey Inheritance in Philadelphia
The Voysey Inheritance in it's birthplace, London
Waste—, another Granville-Barker Off-Broadway revival
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide