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The Heiress ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
February 18, 2019 

Fans of Henry James will cotton to this period piece that debuted on Broadway in 1947.

(L-R) Laura C. Harris (Catherine Sloper) and Jonathan David Martin (Morris Townsend) in The Heiress. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Set in the Victorian era, it is based on James’ novella, Washington SquareThe Heiress takes place in the parlor of the prominent Doctor Sloper’s home in New York City circa 1850’s – a time when proper ladies and gentlemen of a certain class comported themselves with the utmost dignity.  But minding your P’s and Q’s at a time when a family’s reputation could be destroyed at the drop of a lace handkerchief, took serious adherence to well-circumscribed proprieties.

For the painfully shy doctor’s daughter, who struggles to live up to her late mother’s image in her father’s eyes, every social interaction is torturous.  Every slight from her father’s lips remands her deeper into her silent world of embroidery until his sister, Lavinia, encourages Catherine to climb out of her self-imposed shell and reject his autocratic demands.

(L to R) Janet Hayatshahi (Elizabeth Almond) and James Whalen (Dr. Austin Sloper) in The Heiress. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

When a cousin brings Morris, an attentive young suitor, to dinner Catherine begins to see how the attentions of an adoring young man can empower her to speak out.  Naturally, her father disapproves as Morris is penniless, but Catherine finds her inner strength and, with the backing of her aunt, rebels against his social constraints.

Relatives provide disparaging gossip about Morris that he is a mere mountebank after Catherine’s fortune and the money her father has promised to leave her in his will.  It’s easy to imagine how fraught these issues must have been when young women bowed to the demands of their fathers and society’s pressures to conform to the highest standards of conduct were unassailable.

(L-R) Jonathan David Martin (Morris Townsend) and Nancy Robinette (Lavinia Penniman) in The Heiress. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The great character actress Nancy Robinette as Aunt Lavinia is marvelous, as is Laura Harris as Catherine and Jonathan David Martin as the suspiciously-motivated Morris.  It’s a well-balanced cast all around with an all-women creative team that includes Deputy Artistic Director Seema Sueko.  Together they produce the precise ambiance to frame this classic period piece which draws upon women’s struggles to supersede their societal constraints.

Fans of period dramas such as Downton Abbey will swoon.

By Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz; Directed by Seema Sueko; Set Design by Mikiko Suzuki Macadams; Costume Design by Ivania Stack; Lighting Design by Sherrice Mojgani; Sound Design and Original Music by Emma M. Wilk; and Wig Design by Anne Nesmith.

With Lise Bruneau as Mrs. Montgomery; Lorene Chesley as Marian Almond; Laura C. Harris as Catherine Sloper; Janet Hayatshahi as Elizabeth Almond; Joanathan David Martin as Morris Townsend; Nanacy Robinette as Lavinia Penniman; Kimberly Schraf as Maria; James Whelan as Dr. Austin Sloper; and Nathan Whitmer as Arthur Townsend.

Through March 10th at Arena Stage – 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

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