TheaterMania Logo

The Voysey Inheritance

The Atlantic Theater's 24-carat-revival of Harley Granville Barker's family drama features a stunning lead performance by Michael Stuhlbarg. logo
Samantha Soule and Michael Stuhlbarg
in The Voysey Inheritance
(© Monique Carboni)
There are abundant praiseworthy facets of the Atlantic Theatre Company's 24-carat revival of Harley Granville Barker's trenchant 1904 play, The Voysey Inheritance, which is being presented in a new adaptation by Atlantic co-founder David Mamet.

The first mention, however, must go to the superlative Michael Stuhlbarg, who has been quietly chalking up outstanding performances both on Broadway (The Pillowman, which earned him a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award) and Off-Broadway (Measure for Pleasure, Cymbeline) over the past few years. Still, Stuhlbarg has never been better than he is here in David Warren's production, playing Edward Voysey, a man of high moral fiber who's learned that his respected father (Fritz Weaver) has been playing fast and loose with company funds.

Affecting a period mustache and garbed smartly in period wardrobe, Stuhlbarg carries The Voysey Inheritance on his medium-sized but sturdy shoulders. The instant Jeff Croiter's lights go up, he enters and then rarely surrenders focus as he appropriates the stage, repeatedly gripping a stuffed briefcase out of which he produces papers that confirm the family ignominy. It's up to Edward to right his father's wrongs, if he so chooses -- a task his family doesn't necessarily want him to undertake.

Barker's play is about the paradoxical nuances of absolute ethical behavior, and Stuhlbarg's performance is likewise beautifully nuanced. Because the venerated dramatist is intent on suggesting the emotions stirring under the reserved English demeanor, Stuhlbarg presents Edward as a tormented man who prefers holding himself still whenever he can. Whenever Edward makes a gesture -- such as reaching for the hand of his equally upright fiancé and cousin Alice (Samantha Soule) -- the slight movement connotes intense meaning. Stuhlbarg's acting is done mostly by way of his devastated dark eyes. When he allows them to well up, he becomes a man whose frustration and disappointment are too deep for words.

The one-set, two-hour play occurs in remarkably sumptuous surroundings. Derek McLane has designed a spacious drawing room, the walls of which are covered with elegantly framed oil paintings so eye-catching that more than one observer must wonder whether Edward might not sell some of them to replenish his firm's depleted funds. As for Gregory Gale's costumes, the women's outfits -- beaded, draped, ruffled and accessorized with elaborate brooches -- underscore the Voysey wealth and render even more chilling the ladies' seeming ignorance of the criminal circumstances by which they've been so gorgeously attired. If it's true there's a crime behind every great fortune, McLane and Gale have assiduously put that assumed Voysey fortune on display.

Warren, who has done some of his best work with the production, takes care that neither his leading man nor the veteran star Weaver (who appears only in the first act) are acting in a vacuum. For example, Granville Barker imagined three other quite different Voysey brothers, and they're well played by Christopher Duva, Todd Weeks, and especially C. J. Wilson, whose Booth is the sort of dimmer-witted sibling who inevitably becomes a military stuffed shirt.

Soule is knowingly staunch as the patient Alice, while Judith Roberts, Katharine Powell, and Rachel Black demonstrate three strains of upper-middle-class refinement as the various Voysey women. Geddeth Smith contributes good work as the Reverend Colpus, and Steven Goldstein and Peter Maloney as the Voysey's clerk, Mr. Peacey, and family friend and client George Booth, respectively, are particularly impressive in scenes where Edward's mettle is tested.

For all of his fine work on the script, Mamet has taken no grandiose liberties with Barker's telling lines, the greater percentage of which need no updating. Indeed, nothing could be more timely than the following utterance: "It's strange the number of people who believe they can do right by means which they know to be wrong." To hear the remark is to know how contemporarily cogent Harley Granville Barker remains.

Tagged in this Story