Forge Theatre in Phoenixville continues its 50th season with the classic piece, THE HEIRESS by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, adapted from Washington Square by Henry James. This story centers around Catherine Sloper (Maria Jarrell), a plain, painfully shy woman whose father, Dr. Sloper (Paul Leis) finds to be a disappointment. Catherine meets Morris Townsend (Eric Jarrell) who courts Catherine with the help of Catherine’s Aunt Penniman (Andrea Cronin.) He convinces Catherine to marry him, but Dr. Sloper is convinced that Morris is pursuing Catherine for her inheritance and will not give his consent to marry. He takes Catherine to Europe for six months to try to get her to forget Morris, but upon their return the lovers plot to elope. Dr. Sloper warns Catherine that if he disobeys her wishes she will be disinherited. Catherine is determined to marry Morris and tells him of her father’s threats. (If you are not familiar with this play, you will have to come to see it to see what happens next.)
Director Robert Marsch has assembled a solid cast for this production. Husband and wife team Eric and Maria Jarrell sparkle as the focus of the story, Maria’s Catherine appropriately shy and retiring at the outset, and by the end of the play she has grown to be a different person, as she notes “I have been taught by masters.” Eric is charming and solicitous, yet there is little doubt as to his motives. It is hardly surprising that the chemistry between these two crackles with intensity. Andrea Cronin as Aunt Penniman is delightful as the doting albeit overly-romantic aunt who serves as Morris’ accomplice. Paul Leis’ Dr. Sloper is very refined and quietly haughty. I would have liked to see a bit more from him when he is criticizing Catherine and confronting Morris, but he remains every bit of the upper class New Yorker. Kim Stratoti does a fine job as Maria, the devoted servant. Joining them in the cast are Christian Talbot as Arthur Townsend, Beverly Fox as Mrs. Montgomery, Marian Almond as Shanna Lodge, and Bev Smith as Mrs. Almond.
The show moves along nicely, the pace excellent, a testament to both the direction and the skill of the actors. The set is a beautiful drawing room, compact yet allowing enough space for the actors to move freely. As one of the audience member said to me, “the costumes are the star of this show”, with costumer Regina DePaolis doing craftsman’s work on all of the costumes. The work on the women’s gowns is amazing.
There is much to enjoy about this production. There are a couple issues, however, that are a bit distracting. The scene changes are overlong (many, I think, due to costume changes) and only one scene change was masked with music. You could feel the audience’s attention slipping away with each scene change. In the scenes not involving Catherine and Morris, there was a lack of ebb and flow at times, the scene meandering until either of the above characters entered. And some of the sound effects were overdone, the door opening/closing at times almost humorous, the volume overwhelming the action on stage. These few things did not dampen the audience’s overall appreciation of a fine interpretation of this classic piece.
By Ruth And Augustus Goetz
Adapted from the Henry James novel, Washington Square
Directed by Robert Marsch
April 20-May 5, 2012
243 First Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460