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Scandal, schemes, key in ‘Voysey’

It takes something more than two generations of personal scandal and the threat of financial ruin to ruffle the stalwart Voysey family. Well, at least most of them.

The Peterborough Player’s new production “The Voysey Inheritance,” by English playwright Harley Granville-Barker dips into the seedy under-belly of the seemingly pristine elegance of the British upper-class in the midst of the turn of the century. Poor, principled lead Edward Voysey, played by Kraig Swartz, is the only one who is more than momentarily rocked by the news that the family’s beloved patriarch has been keeping his family in fine style only by pilfering funds from his investment firm, in a scheme that Charles Ponzi or Bernie Madoff would admire.

It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek choice for director Gus Kaikkonen, when the production was sponsored by Grove Street Fiduciary. But the play, which is also adapted by Kaikkonen, couldn’t be in better hands; Kaikkonen also introduced the production to New York City off-Broadway at the Mint Theater. Under his direction, the cast portrays a range of reaction, all believable — even understandable — to the family scandal.

The story makes the most of its two-setting stage, using a small amount of furniture to portray the opulent lifestyle of the Voyseys. Subtle changes in the set design are enough to convey the passage of time as the play spins out over two years.

While Edward grapples with the critical decision of coming clean and trying to salvage the family honor or perpetuating the scheme to try to make good with his father’s investors, he must also deal with the rest of the cast of characters that makes up his family.

Much of the production’s darkly-toned humor comes from its quick wit and dry delivery. Some of the best moments of humor come from the play’s secondary characters, particularly the boisterous and most definitely not conceited (as he will inform you multiple times throughout the play) Major Booth Voysey, played by Tom Frey, who relies heavily upon his booming voice to make his opinions known, and the comically tragic Honor Voysey, played by Bridget Beirne.

The heart of the play, as it should be, is with its leads. Swartz’s Edward manages to straddle the line between pathetic and sympathetic, and always manages to come out on the right side. Mr. Voysey, portrayed with just the right mix of dignity and self-righteousness in the face of his wrong-doings by George Morfogen, is a stand-out character. Having inherited his father’s investment scheme, Voysey has spent the last thirty years perpetuating it, and settled quite comfortably into his life of villianry, all while maintaining a pristine image of the English gentleman.

Now, late in life, Voysey is ready to hand his “inheritance” over to his own son Edward, who is a touch too idealistic to take the news with aplomb.

Edward and Voysey’s interactions start the play and thrust the audience into a very complex situation, juxtaposed by Edward’s distress and Voysey’s blasé assessment of the situation. A large portion of the play is taken up by Edward’s individual interactions between various other characters, including his father, his somewhat blunt and pragmatic sister-in-law Beatrice Voysey, played by Lisa Bostnar, and Edward’s long-time love Alice Maitland, played by Karron Graves.

It is in these one-on-one interactions that Granville-Barker’s dialogue shines. Graves and Bostnar have excellent portrayals of female characters, who, along with Edward, portray some of the few truly sympathetic characters of the play. Most of the rest profess to being gentlemen of honor, but when it comes down to it, only portray greed and self-interest. Both hit the right notes of comedic and dramatic as they are called for. The audience gets the pleasure of watching the relationship between Edward and Alice — who has already rejected four (and a half) proposals from Edward — blossom on stage.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.

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