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Gerald Carpenter: Theatre Group at SBCC Stages ‘The Heiress’

Currently on stage at Santa Barbara City College’s beautiful (and comfy) Garvin Theatre is the Theatre Group at SBCC’s new production of The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz.

The Heiress is directed by Judy Garey with sets and lighting by Patricia Frank, costumes by Pamela Shaw and sound design by Steven “Nanook” Burkholder. The all-star cast features guest artist Avery Clyde and includes Evan Bell, Kate Bergstrom, Katherine Bottoms, Marion Freitag, Tom Hinshaw, Leslie Gangl Howe, Josh Jenkins and Leslie Ann Story.

The Heiress, based on the novel Washington Square by Henry James, was dramatized by the husband and wife team of the Goetzes, opened on Broadway in 1947 and was very successful. The play has been successfully revived four times — most recently in 2012, starring Jessica Chastain — and director William Wyler made the play into a successful motion picture in 1949, starring Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson.

All this success would have astonished — and delighted — James, who cherished a dream of financing his dotage with the royalties of a hit play — or two — but only frustration came of it. Most of the plays he wrote were never produced, and the rest were flops. (James' great biographer, Leon Edel, read through all the master’s plays, seeking a reason for the failure. In one play, an aristocratic woman asks a superbly turned out valet, “To whom do you — beautifully — belong?” I think we might have located some of the problem — even Helen Hayes or Katharine Hepburn might have fumbled that one, however exquisitely nuanced it is on paper.)

The Heiress,” the folks at City College say, “is the story of Catherine Sloper, a shy and awkward woman whose mother died in childbirth and whose father is a prominent and wealthy New York doctor. Caught between the demands of her emotionally distant father and her passionate young suitor, Catherine must navigate the terrain of love and regret, desire and duty, a chance for happiness and the double-edged sword of a large family fortune.”

Left out of this synopsis is the equivocal, enigmatic nature of Catherine’s suitor, Morris Townsend. The drama pivots far more on his actions, and choices, than on Catherine’s steadfastness. James’ heroines, plain or fair, tend to be stubbornly persistent in their wrong-headedness. Their leading men, predators or stooges, come in more various, even unpredictable, forms.

Performances of The Heiress will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 1. Tickets for Thursday evening and Sunday matinees are $22 for general admission, $17 for seniors and $12 for students; for Friday and Saturday evenings, tickets are $24 for general admission, $19 for seniors and $15 for students. Parking is free and near the theater.

For information or reservations, call the Garvin Theatre box office at 805.965.5935. Click here to purchase tickets online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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