You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Heiress

The younger generation isn't up to Richard Chamberlain's level in 'The Heiress,' but Ruth and Augustus Goetz's venerable 1947 warhorse comes through anyway for good old-fashioned entertainment, overlong but absorbing.

Dr. Austin Sloper - Richard Chamberlain
Catherine Sloper - Heather Tom
Morris Townsend - Steve Coombs

Youth will have its day, but there’s something to be said for old pros. Richard Chamberlain, who back in the day commanded the small screen in “Shogun” and “The Thorn Birds,” shows a company of whippersnappers what command is all about in Pasadena Playhouse’s revival of “The Heiress.” The younger generation isn’t up to his level, but Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s venerable 1947 warhorse comes through anyway for good old-fashioned entertainment, overlong but absorbing.

Though the vehicle adapts austere, tony Henry James’s “Washington Square,” it’s always held a greater debt to low melodrama than high literature. (Good thing, too; James was a lousy dramatist.) Repressed, timorous Catherine Sloper (Heather Tom) is tied to metaphorical railroad tracks by not one but two antagonists: the autocratic father (Chamberlain) contemptuous of the pallid progeny who killed his beloved wife in childbirth; and a mysterious suitor (Steve Coombs) with romantic patter and ambiguous motives.

This Pauline’s perils keep an audience rapt even when, as in Pasadena, the actress overuses the same stifled giggle and breathlessness on line after line after line. It’s a pity helmer Damaso Rodriguez couldn’t or wouldn’t push her to greater variety of voice and manner. For that matter, Coombs tries so hard he tips his hand, and would do better with a subtler seduction of the fly into his spiderweb.

But Chamberlain shows everyone the power of deceptive ease.

As Dr. Sloper, the former Dr. Kildare wields the energy and technique of a thesp half his age (nearing 80). This tyrant is much less neurotically haunted, more blithe than Ralph Richardson’s celebrated turn in the 1949 movie. Chamberlain’s controlling thumb on everyone’s lives is even crueller in its offhandedness.

Better still, he’s able to maintain the illusion of being in daughter’s corner until the very last moment when, illness clouding his judgment, he commits the fatal reveal which animates the latter third of the evening. Thesp earns the audience’s hisses, but engages our hearts too in this intriguing take on a complex role.

It’s all effectively framed within John Iacovelli’s drawing room set, conveying a real sense of psychological enclosure beyond its elegant photorealism. One entrapment element is unfortunate: Because the upstage landing is narrow and obscured by a wide settee, key confrontations like the act one closer are lost, and Catherine’s famous walk up the stairs barely registers.

The Heiress

Pasadena Playhouse; Pasadena, 652 seats; $59 top

Production: A Pasadena Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by Ruth and Augustus Goetz. Directed by Damaso Rodriguez.

Creative: Sets, John Iacovelli; costumes, Leah Piehl; lighting, Brian Gale; sound, Doug Newell; production stage manager, Heathyr Verhoef. Opened, reviewed Apr. 29, 2012. Runs through May 20. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

Cast: Dr. Austin Sloper - Richard Chamberlain
Catherine Sloper - Heather Tom
Morris Townsend - Steve Coombs
With: Gigi Bermingham, Julia Duffy, Dale Sandlin, Elizabeth Tobias, Anneliese Van Der Pol, Jill Van Velzer.

More Legit

  • Stephanie Dalton City National Bank

    Why City National Handles Financing for Half the Shows on Broadway

    Seen a Broadway show lately? If the answer is yes, then there’s a pretty good chance that Stephanie Dalton and her team at City National Bank have played a role in the financial life of the production. That can mean anything from managing the cash that a show takes in at the box office to [...]

  • Broadway Theater Placeholder

    The Great Green Way: Inside Broadway's Economic Boom

    Here’s an old Broadway story, probably apocryphal, but with the ring of truth: A worried producer checks in on his ticket sales to see how his show is doing. “We had a terrible night, boss,” the treasurer tells him. “We did one penny.” The producer sulks through Shubert Alley and runs into a rival. “How’s [...]

  • SpotCo and Tanna Inc. Announce Partnership

    SpotCo and Tanna Inc. Announce Partnership for Broadway Ticket Sales and More

    Marketing and branding agency SpotCo and independent analytics firm Tanna Inc. have teamed up to offer their expertise in attempts to optimize ticket sales, revenue, and inventory management for Broadway shows, Variety has learned. Clients will have access to a tailored, personal tool-belt from SpotCo’s co-managing director Stephen Santore and Tanna Inc. founder and president [...]

  • Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys

    Listen: Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys of Broadway

    For anyone who doubts that being a Broadway actor can be grueling, let Bryan Cranston set you straight. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a cumulative effect of fatigue that happens on the Broadway schedule that no amount of sleep the night before is going to wash away,” the Emmy and Tony-winning actor [...]

  • Jeff Daniels Variety Broadway to Kill

    How 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Beat the Odds to Deliver a Broadway Smash

    Jeff Daniels slumps into a chair in the Shubert Theatre, grasping an oversize Starbucks and looking bone-crushingly exhausted. His eyelids are heavy, and he seems like a man in desperate need of rest. It’s easy to understand why. It’s late March, and Daniels has just given his 100th Broadway performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town attorney [...]

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content