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      The Heiress
    James addiction

    Theater companies keep going back to Henry James' "Washington Square" for inspiration, not always with the theatrical adroitness and economic accessibility of the Roundtable Ensemble's production titled "The Heiress."


    The Roundtable Ensemble is the kind of idealist operation which sets out to provide the experience of theater to groups in the community who may otherwise miss out. Like many showcase companies in New York, the operation depends upon the generosity of others, as well as the tireless hustle of every artist and staff member involved. Under Equity rules, ticket prices and show schedules (over the few weeks the shows can afford to run) prevent a company like this from even dreaming of breaking even. They run on love of the art form, and dedication to public service.

    Company: Roundtable Ensemble.
    Written by: Ruth and Augustus Goetz.
    Directed by: Mahayana Landowne.
    Based on "Washington Square" by: Henry James.
    Includes individual plays: Michael Balsley, Sarah Dandridge, David Gochfeld, Rebecca Hoodwin, James Jacobson, Kelly Ann Moore, Jean Morgan, Dee Pelletier, Michele Tauber
    Sound design by: Joel R. Wilhelmi.
    Set design by: Jo Winiarski.
    Costumes by: Oana Botez-Ban.
    Lighting Design: David Dunford.
    Technical Director: Warren Katz.
    Production Stage Manager: Andrea Ghersetich.
    Properties: Erin E. Kiernan.
    Assistant Stage Manager: Amanda Kate Joshi.
    Assistant Director:
    Related links: Official site
    Mint Theater
    311 West 43rd St., 5th floor
    Jan. 14-31, 2004

    The latest service performed by Roundtable is a crisp, authentic and glimmering production of "The Heiress," an adaptation of Henry James' novella "Washington Square." The play, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, had its first Broadway run at the Biltmore in 1947 and most recently at the Cort Theatre in 1995, and remains as one of theater's most famous father-daughter tragedies.

    The play is set in New York City in 1850. Catherine Sloper, daughter of wealthy widower Dr. Austin Sloper, emerges from a young lifetime of soul-battering condemnation and betrayal into the woman her "masterful" abusers (Dr. Sloper and her parasitic seducer, Morris Townsend) have always seemed to wish: For Morris, one uncommonly rich. For her father, one devilishly clever. The grueling story, however, leaves us fearing that these attributes, in Catherine, are nothing short of tragic.

    Director Mahayana Landowne keeps her able cast sharp and, unlike the latest Broadway incarnation, healthily apace, not flying too fast over the play's rich nuances and subtle wit. The script could easily inspire manipulative melodrama, but James Jacobson (Dr. Sloper) and Kelly Ann Moore (Catherine) set a smart tone by patiently building tension under a period-appropriate repression. Michael Balsley (Morris) contrasts nicely with restrained aggressiveness that is somehow both suave and desperate. Michele Tauber is delightful as the clumsy and jolly optimist, Aunt Lavinia Penniman. Jo Winiarski's set is elegant, and makes the most of every inch the Mint Space allows. Oana Botez-Ban's costumes and David Dunford's lighting are rightly simple and effective. Landowne and sound designer Joel R. Wilhelmi team up on a clever transition concept that moves us from scene to scene without losing momentum, avoiding either total blackouts or a full curtain.

    As ticket prices reach the amount of some weekly incomes at the box offices across Eighth Avenue, there is beautiful theater happening on the cheap five floors up on West 43rd. An opportunity like this for a lover of great plays is hard to come by, and cannot last very long. For the Roundtable Ensemble, we may borrow a line from Act One: Just be thankful it has come at all.

    JANUARY 21, 2004

    Reader comments on The Heiress:

  • Great theater!!   from Mimi Burnham, Feb 2, 2004
  • question about THE HEIRESS   from ella chan, Jul 15, 2005

  • Post a comment on "The Heiress"