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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pasadena Playhouse goes back in time: The Heiress

The Heiress

Henry James’s novel, Washington Square, was written in the late 1800s.  In 1947 Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz adapted James’s novel for the Broadway stage calling it The Heiress.  It tells the melancholy story of a lonely young woman struggling reluctantly to find herself through the appreciation of others.

The proscenium is cloaked with a beautifully painted drop depicting the toney New York City neighborhood of  “Washington Square 1850.” It is very impressive. We then discover John Iacovelli’s gorgeous set, an elegantly beautiful reproduction of a Victorian townhouse in Wedgewood Blue. Leah Piehl’s fantastic costumes, especially for the women of the company in change after change, with every detail attended to; antique furniture reflecting the wealth of the good doctor’s success; all extend the promise of a classic piece of theatre.

Fair warning has been announced that the play with an intermission will run almost three hours.  Polite applause by the invited audience as the stars make their entrances is traditional. We meet the chilly patriarch, Dr. Austin Sloper (Richard Chamberlain) as he discusses the issue of daughter, Catherine’s (Heather Tom), inept social graces with his sister, Aunt Lavinia (the excellent Julia Duffy).  Soon we are joined by Catherine and the slow and deliberate movement of exposition begins.

The first honest moment of the play is expressed by a five second dash across the stage. It’s the completely professional Elizabeth Tobias, as Maria, the crisp and efficient maid.  Unfortunately, The Heiress is not about Maria.

The plot moves slowly, possibly by director T├ámaso Rodriguez’s design. And, though presented in beautiful images, the story of how Miss Sloper is swept off her feet almost immediately by the fortune hunter, Morris Townsend (slick Steve Coombs); spurred on by the romantic notions of Aunt Lavinia, and all, it takes much too long to tell.

Chamberlain cuts a fine figure on the stage, handsome, yet hard pressed to give love to Catherine, whom he blames for the death in childbirth of his beloved wife. The doctor’s knowledge of his own impending death, “I am never wrong about these things.” he says, elicits a fine audience response.  And, then, time passes. Townsend returns (in the novel as a fat and balding ne’er do well, but in the play not much the worse for wear) to give it one more shot with Catherine, only to be unkindly snubbed. Pace was the issue on Opening Night.  Hopefully, as the show progresses, the energy will pick up.  

The Heiress
By Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
Through May 20, 2012
Rush Tickets available one hour before curtain: $15.00
Tickets $29 to $59.00  Premium Seating $100.00
For performances and information:
626 921 1161
www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org