Acting, direction, set design, lighting design and costume design are top-notch in the Pasadena Playhouse production of The Heiress by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz, making it a must-see before the all-too-soon closing performance on May 20, 2012. Based on the 1881 Henry James novel Washington Square about the relationship between an embittered widower, Dr. Austin Sloper (Richard Chamberlain), and his painfully shy and awkward daughter, Catherine Sloper (Heather Tom), depicts familial themes relevant today.
Scenic Designer John Iacovelli’s sumptuous 1850 Washington Square mansion set provided a glimpse into New York history and a perfect place for the action to unfold.
Chamberlain commanded the stage as Dr. Sloper, a man who can barely disguise disdain for and disappointment in his hapless, seemingly graceless daughter. Consummate actor that he is Chamberlain portrayed this cruel character in a way that made his harshness understandable.
Tom’s performance was heartbreaking as the heiress, almost too painful to witness. Desperately struggling to break through her shell and please her father, she falls for the penniless Morris Townsend (Steve Coombs) who is the first man to pay court to her, albeit for questionable motives.
Julia Duffy portrays Catherine’s Aunt Lavinia Penniman. Her many-faceted performance is a pure delight as she tries to help her niece through guidance and encouragement, and finding joy greasing the wheels of romance.
Rodriguez has directed several shows at the Playhouse, as well as for A Noise Within, his own Furious Theatre Company and other theaters to considerable acclaim, but his is perhaps his finest work. Of course, he cast an extraordinary ensemble of actors who bring out the humor in this drama.
Leah Piehl’s period costumes are marvelous, especially those she built for Catherine among them a dreadful dress that looks like it was made from a bedspread and gowns in colors that seem to make her disappear. She also made Chamberlain look exceedingly handsome, not that that was at all difficult to do.
Brian Gale’s lighting design is effective and the last cue is breathtaking.
The only thing wrong with this production is its short run! So don’t delay. Audiences are not likely to see a better production of this classic.
The Heiress performs 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday through May 20. Tickets range from $29-$59, $100 premium seating, rush tickets $15 one hour prior to performance subject to availability. Call 626-356-7529, visit Pasadena Playhouse box office or visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. Group Sales (8 or more) are available by calling 626-921-1161.
The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA91101.