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A CurtainUp Review
The Voysey Inheritance

Laughable. You wouldn’t believe there were such fools in the world as some of these wretched clients have been. . . Now sometimes their money doesn’t even exist.—Edward Voysey, whose" inheritance" is a law firm that has gotten away with dipping into its trusting clients' capital.
Where’s it gone?— his brother, Major Booth Voysey
You’ve been living on it.—Edward Voysey.

Samantha Soule and Michael Stuhlbarg in The Voysey Inheritance
Samantha Soule and Michael Stuhlbarg in The Voysey Inheritance
(Photo: Monique Carboni)
Harley Granville-Barker's The Voysey Inheritance may have gone through a period of neglect when the Mint Theater first revived it six years ago as part of its mission to resuscitate old treasures. It can hardly be regarded as neglected in recent years. Since my first review it's turned up in Philadelphia and in its birthplace, London (see links to all past reviews below). And now, the Atlantic Theater Company which he co-founded, has tackled David Mamet's own adaptation and the Mint will be giving another Granville-Barker play, The Madras House, a new life a tthe end of January.

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

Harley Granville-Barker, adapted by David Mamet
Directed by David Warren
Cast: Rachel Black (Honor Voysey), Christopher Duva ( Trenchard Voysey), Steven Goldstein (Mr. Peacey), Peter Maloney (George Booth), Katharine Powell (Ethel Voysey),Judith Roberts (Mrs. Voysey), Geddeth Smith (Reverend Evan Colpus), Samantha Soule (Alice Maitland),, Michael Stuhlbarg (Edward Voysey), Fritz Weaver (Mr. Voysey), Todd Weeks (Hugh Voysey), CJ Wilson (Major Booth Voysey)
Sets: Derek McLane
Costumes: Gregory Gale
Lights: Jeff Croiter
Sound: Fitz Patton
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission
Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street (Between 8th and 9th Avenues) 212/239-6200
From November 15, 2006 to January 7, 2007—extended to January 21st and two more times to March 25, 2007; opening December 6, 2006.
Tues through Sat @ 8:00pm, Sat @ 2:00pm, Sun @ 3:00pm
Tickets: $55.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 7th performance
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