The Voysey Inheritance

  • Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman

    Review by Barbara Mehlman

    La plus �a change, la plus c�est la m�me chose. French proverb Duke (explaining where he got the money to sign an expensive football player): "The pension fund was just sitting there." from "Doonesbury" by Garry Trudeau. Alan Hevesi and Garry Trudeau came to mind most recently when I saw an excellent production of "The Voysey Inheritance," a 1905 play about morals and ethics -- or the lack thereof -- topics very much of concern today if one were to judge our national character by the political and celebrity headlines over the last few years.

    Hevesi, the duly-elected Comptroller of New York State, keeper of the books, dipped into funds he had no business touching so that his wife may have a chauffeur for trips to the doctor and Bloomingdale's.

    My guess is Hevesi probably didn't even consider that he might have been doing something unethical, albeit illegal, because -- I don't know why because. But the Greeks, however, had a name for such behavior -- they called it hubris, and this fatal personal flaw of overweening pride tends to breed a false sense of entitlement.

    Mr. Voysey, the elderly patriarch of his wealthy family, was inflicted with the same flaw. Played with dignity and wit by Fritz Weaver, Voysey is a solicitor in charge of the trust funds of many clients, some well-to-do, some of average means. During his family's annual Christmas get-together, Voysey's eldest son and partner, Edward, is behaving badly, devoid of all seasonal spirit.

    Edward's fianc�, Alice, feels neglected, and can't seem to figure out why her lover is so sullen. His sister, Ethel, has just announced her engagement and has made it clear to her father that she wants a large cash gift, although if he wants to throw in a piano, that would be fine too. This upsets Edward even further.

    After clearing the room so he can speak to his father privately, Edward reveals that he's been working on the clients' files and discovered that their accounts are empty and the firm is bankrupt. When his father confesses to siphoning off clients' capital gains to fund his family's extravagant lifestyle, the highly moral Edward is outraged and threatens to go to the police.

    Pleading with his son for mercy, explaining that the money was just sitting in the accounts and not doing anything, Edward finally agrees not to go public if his father pays back every penny. Voysey agrees, only to die before he can manage this, leaving Edward to handle the mess all alone.

    Things get worse when Mr. Booth, a longtime client and close friend of the elder Voysey decides to move his account from the firm since he doesn't have the confidence in Edward that he had in his father.

    This fascinating play inevitably evokes modern references as it urges us to consider why people in trusted positions think they won't get found out if they embezzle. It happens over and over, and yet the blind spot remains. Think of all the corruption before Hevesi -- the corporate theft of the '90s, the savings and loan debacle of the '80s, the mutual funds scandals of the '70s.

    Harley Granville-Barker, a writer with keen insights into human behavior, wrote this provocative play, and David Warren has directed it with thought and intelligence. However, I wish he had suggested to Michael Stuhlbarg (Edward), who won a Drama Desk award for his role in "Pillowman," that he ratchet up his performance a bit. His soft-spoken delivery was just too low-key for one seething with anger.

    The excellent supporting cast, however, do well by their characters who have to learn what it means to live on austerity.

    Barbara Mehlman

    What the press had to say.....

    CHARLES ISHERWOOD of the NEW YORK TIMES: �Crisply acted, largely engrossing revival." & "C. J. Wilson provides a delicious piece of demi-caricature as Major Booth. Other standouts among a cast without a weak member are Rachel Black, in the small role of the grave daughter of the family, Honor Voysey."

    JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "A highly polished production that runs a taut two hours." & "Raises issues about money, greed, loyalty and family that crackle with resonance 101 years after it was written."

    FRANK SCHECK of THE NEW YORK POST: "Mamet has streamlined the action of the nearly three-hour play, resulting in a breathlessly fast-paced, two-hour drama that's superbly delivered in this beautifully acted production staged by David Warren."

    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "The play remains a fascinating look at the eternal verities of upper-crust greed and moral hypocrisy." & "Handsomely attired by Gregory Gale, a solid company does nicely by the two-hour drama."

    JACQUES LE SOURD of JOURNAL NEWS: "Earnest but laborious adaptation."

    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "As a prickly and topical indictment of the moneyed class, this is nasty good fun." & "Although one of the most fascinating psychopathologies in the mix disappears before intermission, and Mamet thins out the plots instead of thickening them, we are kept guessing by a story worthy of Ibsen, dialogue almost as sparkling as Shaw's and a topic as modern as Enron."

    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS: "Mamet's adaptation, which opened Wednesday at off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company, is a lean, tough-minded affair that peaks early. The play's most dramatic moments come in the first act when son Edward, a calmly determined Michael Stuhlbarg, confronts his father, played with charming rectitude by Fritz Weaver." & "The two actors are the best things about this production, which features a spotty, uneven supporting cast."

    MARILYN STASIO of VARIETY: "A bracing revival, anchored by a regal performance from Fritz Weaver. Sharply illuminated in a crisp adaptation by David Mamet and advanced by a tip-top ensemble under helmer David Warren, the cautionary themes of "The Voysey Inheritance" -- the corruptive nature of capitalist economic models and their corrosive impact on the human character -- emerge with shattering clarity."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    New York Daily News
    New York Post
    Journal News
    Associated Press