The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW Theater Revisits the 1800s

3 min read


A Klein Theatre production, set in a time far from the minds of our contemporary students offers an intriguing story about love, money, and the ways of the world. “The Heiress” by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on the Henry James novella, Washington Square, is presented by The University of Mary Washington Theatre and Dance department and opens Thursday, April 2 and runs Thursday through Sunday April 12.
Students will be hard pressed to find a more absorbingly elegant performance than this. Executed at a high level of detailed sophistication, this alluring story set in 1850 tells of a young girl who comes to discover that love is not always what it seems.
Miss Catherine Sloper, our naïve heroine, falls desperately in love with Morris Townsend, a seemingly genuine man whose motivations lie in the fortune Catherine stands to inherit from her father, the dourly protective Dr. Sloper.
Director Professor Helen Housley, not wanting to give away the end of this darkly fascinating story says that, “at first glance ‘The Heiress’ seems to be a romance but the turns and twists of the plot make it something very different.”
Adding to this captivating story, the lavish costumes and scenery beautifully articulate this pre-civil war era and will undoubtedly leave the audience romantically enchanted.
One of the elements in this play that distinguishes it from other productions is the attention to historical accuracy. As Professor Housley explained, “the students have really had to put themselves into the 19th century. They have had to learn behaviors and mannerisms very foreign to modern students; re-learn modes of walking and talking. It is essentially the Gone with the Wind look.” However, even with this distinction the play remains very accessible to today’s audiences.
The characters in this play are psychologically complex and the production’s young cast deserves recognition for such a challenging undertaking.
When asked what draws her to this piece, Professor Housley replied, “the relationships; especially between Dr. Sloper and his daughter Catherine. It is intriguing, the disconnect between the characters engender emotions from both being a parent and a director. The classic parent-child conflict is really well represented.”
Another challenge associated with this time period is costuming. “The introduction of the hoop skirts was a fun moment. The girls need about a 4 foot clearance on both sides of them as well as have to maneuver a set. It was also challenging for the men as they had to keep their distance but they have all adapted very nicely” said Housley.
Playing the role of Catherine, sophomore Cassandra Lewis also discussed the costuming, “the beautiful corsets, layers of petticoats, bloomers, boots, huge skirts, hoops, we have to work with them, and they have to become part of us.”
Maggie Bausch, a junior playing the role of Aunt Lavinia Penniman, said that due to the costumes, “the girls in the cast have bonded really well because we have an extra half an hour where we get corseted up.”
For most the remarkable costumes, charming set, and talented cast would be more than enough to entice students to see this splendid production but on top of all of that the story itself as Lewis says, “will leave you with intriguing unanswered questions, for a period piece it is really exciting and has a gripping ending.” “The Heiress,” says Housley “will be both visually and emotionally stunning.”