By Ruth and Augustus Goetz
Directed by Mike Marinaccio
Starring Jennifer Christa Palmer, Mark Edward Smith, and Steven Lane
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL
“They don’t write plays like this anymore!” expounded Alan Bruun at the post show reception, and I think he’s largely right. In this modern melodrama based on a Henry James novel, the good are very good and the bad are very bad, and the drama comes as we watch them disassemble each other’s positions. Representing rectitude and good common sense is Dr. Sloper (Smith) a well off physician living in fashionable Washington Square. Opposing him is his naïve daughter Catherine (Palmer) who is plain, shy, tongue tied and unlike to marry. She does have two striking features, an Emily Dickinson hair style and a fortune of 10,000 a year. Her goal is the weasley Morris Townsend (Lane) who drops in unexpectedly and proposes immediate marriage. The force of “Love for Loves Sake” lies in the bosom of Catherine’s only confidant, her ditzy aunt Lavinia (Karel Wright) who believes any romance is a good romance. It takes two years, a trip to Europe and ruby shirt buttons to resolve it, but we end up with one dead body, one broken heart, one frustrated woman, and some significant character growth.
Despite the weird power surges in the lighting, “The Heiress” is a gripping drama that builds to two highly charged climaxes that line up neatly with intermission and the curtain calls. Palmer keeps herself the center of the audience’s attention even as she fades into the wallpaper, while Lane’s bad boy charms her and me and everyone except dear old dad. I feel bad for the Doctor; he’s more concerned with money and appearance than with making his daughter happy. Even though I agreed that this suitor was trouble in a duffel bag, surely someone like Dr. Sloper could get a good Yenta somewhere in New York. The only person on stage I would have spent much time with was Wright’s Lavinia, while she was bound to get everyone in trouble over something or other she was the only person having fun in life.
It’s good to go back to old forms occasionally, and the amount of care lavished on this production shows on stage. There are numerous costume changes, with Catherine wearing at least half a dozen full hoop skirts and the men sporting a complete collection of morning, evening, afternoon tea and walking the dog coats. Faithful Samantha O’Hare was once again the maid, dutifully serving drinks and exposition on a silver salver. The battle between pure good and pure evil didn’t originate with Luke and Darth, it dates back far, far into story telling history. “The Heiress” may be a style we think modern viewers won’t accept, but this tale of love and duty is still fresh.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com