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A CurtainUp Review
The Voysey Inheritance

By Elyse Sommer

In this world one is either the master or servant of money --- Mr. Voysey, Sr., a solicitor who's mastered the manipulation of money without undue stress on his conscience.
Kraig Swartz & George Moforgen
Kraig Swartz & George Moforgen
(Photo: Michael Gottlieb)
While there's enough being written about the business of keeping theatrical enterprises afloat, business as a subject for plays is not popular with most playwrights. A few exceptions to this from the past couple of decades were Glengary Glen Ross (1984) about life in a high pressure real estate firm, Other People's Money (1989) about a group of Wall Street sharks headed for a hostile takeover and The Substance of Fire, (1992) ) about a floundering publishing business. In 1997, Sir David Hare smartly introduced the financial disaster of the Lloyds of London Names program into Amy's View. All these plays succeeded critically as well as at the box office.

Until more playwrights make use of the business world's limitless possibilities for fascinating and timely plots and subplots to appeal to and challenge audiences, we can rejoice in the Mint Theater's excellent revival of Harley Granville-Barker's 1905 drama, The Voysey Inheritance. Old-fashioned in its decor and costumes, elegant and very English in its manners and style, this very satisfying play is vitally up to date in the ethical cunundrums it poses.

The business enterprise at the heart of this drama is a highly respected and respectable family law firm, Voysey & Son, specializing in trusts and estates. Its plot complications stem from a practice started by the firm's founder -- instead of keeping money entrusted to the firm where it belonged, he dipped into their capital to speculate in the stock market. While the clients always received the interest due to them on their capital, they would have been in for a rude surprise had they wanted to cash in their accounts. The inheritance of the title

As the play opens the firm's founding father has long been dead and the current Voysey Sr. (George Morfogen), a man whose aura of confidence and wealth has brought in his son Edward (Kraig Swartz) as junior partner and to be his successor. When the sensitive and idealistic Edward learns about his "inheritance" and how deeply some of pater's recent investments have eaten into their clients' capital, he is appalled.

A moral tug of war between father and son follows into which the rest of the Voysey family is drawn. The shift from the Voysey offices to the family home in suburban Chislehurst makes for a play that for all its discussion of nuts and bolts financial facts also works as an entertaining drawing room comedy. Designer Vicki R. Davis deserves top honors for the ease and elegance of these scene changes within the confines of the small stage.

The actors bring the needed diversity and idiosyncratic tics to the Voyseys and the characters outside the family circle. George Morfogen as the senior Voysey exudes the self-confidence and commanding presence of a man who has balanced a respectable life with a penchant for risk taking. Kraig Swartz is his perfect opposite as the conscience-ridden Edward who is forced to confront the rest of the family with truths they'd rather ignore. He is particularly good in one of the play's best scenes, a confrontation with the smarmy head clerk (a pitch perfect performance by Kurt Everhart) who adds an upstairs/downstairs flavor to the "inheritance."

The most interesting character among the women is Beatrice Voysey (Lisa Bostnar), a writer who knows a thing or two about moral compromise, having married brother Hugh (who remains unseen) for his money. As she explains her pragmatism, "fine feelings are as much a luxury as clean gloves."

Obviously, with so many characters entangled in the fallout from Edward's decision about how to best deal with his unwanted inheritance, there are no pat morals and neat conclusions to tie things neatly together. If you remember what I said about this play working as much as a drawing room comedy as a business and finance drama, however, you won't be surprised that the playwright has provided a touch of romance.

Like his friend and contemporary, George Bernard Shaw, Granville-Barker had many interests besides playwrighting. He was an actor (originating the role of Marchbanks in Shaw's Candida, and theatrical administrator who established the first modern repertory company in the English-speaking world. Once you see this second incarnation of The Voysey Inheritance at the Mint you'll also want make a note to catch the playwright's other well-known and rarely produced Waste. It's scheduled to play at the American Place in March, as the second production in the Theatre for New Audiences' new season.

Written by Harley Granville-Barker
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
With George Morfogen, Robert Boardman, Lisa Bostnar, Chet Carlin, Kurt Everhart, Sally Kemp, Jack Koenig, Sioux Madden, Sevanne Martin, Arleigh Richards, Kraig Swartz
Set Design: Vicki R. Davis
Lighting Design: William Armstrong
Costume Design:Henry Shaffer
Original Music: Ellen Mandel
Dialect Coach: Amy Stoller
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, plus one 15 minute intermission
1/12/2000-2/13/2000; opening 1/18/2000 (a re-opening of original 6/14/99 - 7/3/99 run) Mint Theatre Mint Theater, 311 W. 43rd St. (8th/9th Avs) 315-9434.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 1/15/2000 performance
Extended to 2/20-- and again, to 3/12

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