The Voysey Inheritance

By - Mar 12th, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff


The forced perspective is ominous in every single detail and I’m not just talking about the set. Scenic designer Linda Buchanan has taken what probably is little more than glass, plywood and metal strips and turned them into something that brilliantly conveys a feeling of overwhelming immensity in the finite space that is the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. This set doesn’t represent just any ban – it represents every bank.

The bank frames the action in The Rep’s production of playwright Harley Granville-Barker’s early 20th century political drama, The Voysey Inheritance. In one of the Rep’s best performances of the season, Brian Vaughn plays Edward Voysey, a man set to inherit the substantial fortunes of the family business from his father (James Pickering). The play opens as Mr. Voysey reveals to Edward certain particulars of the business he is set to inherit. In a particularly fascinating bit of dry business conversation, Edward expresses outrage at the fact that his father has been taking money from people who have entrusted it to his business in order to finance a very lavish lifestyle. The elder Voysey assures Edward that the money will be there for his clients when they need it. Thus begins the journey of discovery that every subsequent generation learns from the one which preceded it. All is not as neat and tidy as we have been led to believe and the responsibility for the colossal mess will soon rest in our hands.

All too quickly the elder Voysey passes away, leaving Edward with the choice of either putting things right with the business or maintaining things as the have been for decades. It’s a difficult choice that involves not only his substantial fortune, but also that of a large extended family that relies on money unlawfully amassed by the business. Aiding Edward in his decision is his long-time romantic interest Alice Maitland (Jessica Bates). Edward has proposed to Alice on numerous occasions to no avail. Bates and Vaughn do an admirable job of delivering the kind of chemistry that attracts two equals romantically interested in each other while also accurately portraying the kind of perpetual posturing that keeps them from ever really getting together until outside forces necessitate it. It’s the most satisfying romantic performance to hit the stages so far this season.

The rest of the Rep cast rounds out the stage quite well. We see Rose Pickring in a clever performance as the hearing impaired widow of Edward’s father. Yes it’s incredibly lowbrow and more than a tad insensitive, but as old as deaf comedy is, it never fails to hit. It’s Rose’s brilliantly delayed timing that makes it work so well here. Jonathan Smoots plays vanity with his usual flair as the pompous Booth Voysey. Capable of lending fresh elements to any ensemble, Gerard Neugent cleverly plays the artistically inclined Hugh Voysey. His decision to forfeit his inheritance for the good of the company near the play’s end holds a startlingly memorable bit of monologue.

A play about corporate embezzlement on a massive scale is still as fresh today as when it was first staged the better part of a century ago. The fact that this sounds as painfully obvious as it is should be a lot more shocking than it actually is. It is for precisely this reason that plays like this need to be staged with the kind of stark clarity that the Rep is capable of delivering. VS

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of The Voysey Inheritance runs now through March 25 at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. Tickets range in price and can be purchased by calling the box office at 414-224-9490 or online at

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