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Inherit the Sin
or
At Last! A Satisfying Evening in the Theatre
 
Theatre Review
by Harvey Perr
 
The Voysey Inheritance
opened December 6, 2006
at the Atlantic Theater Company
closes January 7, 2007
 
Father must know best. What else can one say about a father who provides breeding and a lavish life style for himself and his family?  So what if his wife is slightly, shall we say, distrait?  There is not that much she needs to be concerned with. Or that his children are a bit boorish about the idea of anyone spoiling their good time with talk about business?
 
After all, it’s not the business they care about, but merely what they can get out of the business. And there is that house they live in that seems to have been decorated by someone who ransacked every museum in Europe, every inch of wall space occupied by a work of art creating a style that might be called exquisitely tasteful vulgarity. And father himself is an absolute pillar of respectability. So does it mean anything that this has all been achieved because father, and his father before him, have been embezzling from their firm, even taking money from their close coterie of client-friends, and finally putting that firm into a state of bankruptcy? One can only shrug off such behavior with as much aplomb as father does because he feels that everyone in his station is probably doing exactly the same.
 
Sound familiar? Like something that happened right here? Where we live? In the very recent past? Of course it does. That it happens to take place in Chistlehurst, England,  in 1905, in the drawing room of the Voysey house, just gives a topical piquancy to this revival of Harley Granville Barker’s “The Voysey Inheritance.” I shamefacedly admit that I have never read this play, even though Barker is something of a legend in theatre lore for his productions of Shakespeare, so I do not know exactly how David Mamet has “adapted” it – except perhaps to imagine that he has removed any creakiness or Edwardian fussiness that might have clung to the original play – but I am definitely thankful to Mr. Mamet for acquainting me with the play and for providing the Atlantic Theater Company the opportunity to mount one of its very best productions and give a New York audience one of this season’s most satisfying evenings in the theatre.
 
The crux of the play lies in how Voysey’s son, who has inherited the firm and the mess his father had made of it, addresses the problem with moral authority, even as he encounters resistance from his family and from his father’s cronies. Detail piles upon detail, complex issues of loyalty and responsibility creep out of every corner, and, in what amounts to the niftiest kind of literary stagecraft that one has come across in a long time, the pieces finally come together with a precision and a clarity and a deftness that is pure pleasure to behold.
 
It is particularly gratifying that the cast is as good as it is. The brilliant Fritz Weaver in the role of the elder Voysey exudes a natural dignity as if it were his second skin and makes such a vivid impression that, even though the character dies between the first and second scene, his presence is felt throughout the rest of the play. In the play, his son inherits the father’s malfunctioning investment firm; on the stage, Michael Stuhlbarg, in the part of the son, inherits Mr. Weaver’s brilliance. Stuhlbarg’s concentration and focus are like laser beams, radiating intensely his every economical movement and setting afire every actor who plays against him. Particularly responsive are Samantha Soule as the warmly knowing woman who loves him; Peter Maloney as a pompously buffoonish crony who wants his entire investment returned whether or not the money is there; and, best of all, C.J. Wilson as his oldest brother, one of those starchy characters who seem to be part of the furniture of any English drawing room, and who imbues every line with a sputtering superciliousness that reminds one of Nigel Bruce or Sir C. Aubrey Smith in their heyday.
 
David Warren’s direction is elegantly fluid. Gregory Gale’s costumes are sumptuously textured. Derek McLane’s set design is a magnificently accurate depiction of overstuffed Edwardian grandeur and, in its way, sets the witty tone of the evening. Here then are a host of theatre artists working at their highest level of professionalism and creativity in their attempt to bring a classic play to delectably wicked life. That the evening also resonates with contemporary relevance only adds to the joy and satisfaction of the occasion.
 
 
 
 


 
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