HART's 'The Heiress' lights the stage
HART takes a leisurely stroll back to 1850 and wealthy Dr. Sloper's elegant Victorian parlor in its final production of the season, "The Heiress."
Based on Henry James' novella "Washington Square," Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted James' 19th century saga of a shy spinster and her suitor for the stage in 1946. Film actress Olivia de Havilland talked Paramount Pictures into buying the vehicle for her and the result was an Academy Award for de Havilland in 1949.
The play is not the movie. For those familiar with the de Havilland/Montgomery Clift film relationship which can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, the play sometimes seems as if it's something else entirely. Clift's film portrayal leaves room for hope that the fortune-hunting Morris Townsend might really love the plain-Jane heiress. In the play, Townsend is a cad who makes sure the audience knows it. An online search reveals the reason for the difference.
Paramount Pictures hired the play's authors to write the film script and insisted that they temper the leading man's characteristics, making him less of a villain than he was in the play. The studio had an understandable desire to capitalize on Montgomery Clift's reputation as a romantic leading man.
HART's director of "The Heiress" Frances Davis said during intermission Saturday evening that she made no mention of the film to the cast. "I was working with the play, not the movie," she said.
Ashleigh Millett did a wonderful turn in the de Havilland role of the dull Catherine Sloper, bringing to it an emotion lacking in the film. Olivia de Havilland, Melanie Wilkes of "Gone With The Wind," often seemed to play a bit of the measured Melanie in every costume piece she did.
Newcomer Lise Hoffman and her husband have recently moved to Waynesville from Anchorage, Alaska. HART is the better for it. As Lavinia Penniman, she is spot-on. Davis did a good job casting the ensemble, giving talented HART veterans such as Christy Bishop and Roger Magendie and others another chance to shine.
HART is known for giving young people opportunities. The production's sound operator Jacob Hunt didn't disappoint in that important role. Hunt is a sophomore at Tuscola High School. Parker Hunt, a Tuscola junior, is lighting operator, having moved over from handling sound in recent shows. When Catherine extinguishes a lamp, it is interesting to see the entire stage go to black at precisely the correct moment.
Executive director Steven Lloyd's sets and lighting design are beautiful as always.
As Davis said in her program notes, "The Heiress" says much about current challenges people face with love and relationships. How do we know when we are in love? What sacrifices are we willing to make for love? Forget the film and treat yourself to HART's G-rated play. Find out whether or not Catherine Sloper lets her inheritance buy herself the man of her dreams.