THE HEIRESS AT THE PASADENA PLAYHOUSE
There have been two successful reincarnations of classic films from 40’sHollywoodfrom
screen to stage recently. A short while ago, ‘Laura’, made in 1944, has opened to great acclaim at Theatre 40 inBeverly Hills. Now we have ‘The Heiress’, the well received film released byParamountin 1949. This version at the Pasadena Playhouse has already garnered ecstatic notices from the press and public alike.
Harking back to Henry James’ 1881 novel ‘Washington Square’, a work that James himself often disparaged in spite of the popularity that it enjoyed when first published, this work has enjoyed a number of revivals over the years. Albert Finney undertook the role of the father in 1997 in a film directed by Polish director Agnieszka Holland with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Catherine. The novel was also adapted as an opera in 1976 by Thomas Pasatieri.
Richard Chamberlain makes a return appearance on the boards in this Henry James drama in the pivotal role of the father. Heather Tom, known for her Emmy winning roles in several soap operas, takes on the part of Catherine, the daughter. Here we witness the disparity between how the father envisions his daughter to be (echoing the perfection of his departed wife) and the reality of what she has become, a plain and painfully shy young woman.
Steve Coombs repeats the Montgomery Clift role as the charismatic but worthless Morris Townsend as he attempts to romance Catherine into marrying him, knowing full well that this will also bring him into possession of her inheritance promised by her father. If the father had been wrong in seeing through Townsend’s machinations he would turn out to be just another cardboard character. However, his assessment is correct even though it is tempered by his hard edged attitude toward Catharine and her obsession with Townsend.
What is interesting is how Catherine matures in the course of being wronged both by her father and Townsend. She triumphs in the end by being clear sighted about all this, maybe never attractive or brilliant but at peace with her self as she looks ahead toward her future.
The sets by John Lacovelli are superlative, as are the brilliantly orchestrated musical interludes by Doug Newell between scenes.
Heather Tom possibly could exhibit more shadings of character as the play progresses (even though she mostly compensates toward the ending of the piece.) Steve Coombs also comes up a bit short in his portrayal of Townsend, not sufficiently allowing us a more incisive look into the workings of his mind as he goes about his nefarious undertaking. Julia Duffy as Lavinia Penniman does the best as she can as she tries to act as a go-between of Catharine and Morris, reminding me somewhat as the feather brained Billie Burke in the screwball comedies of years past.
But Richard Chamberlain certainly comes to the fore as he confronts all around him with understanding and incisiveness albeit uncompromising and confrontational as he refuses to go along with Catherine’s obsession with Morris Townsend. His past experience with his stage roles serves him well in this production.
As a whole, this effort by the Playhouse and director Damaso Rodriguez plays very well and is a treat, both for the eyes and the ears.
Performances are through May 20. … 626.356.7529…www.pasadenaplayhouse.org