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THEATER REVIEW 'THE HEIRESS' : Poor Catherine : The spinster meets--and loves--Morris, who may be after her fortune.

October 18, 1990|TODD EVERETT

Catherine Sloper, the title character of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's "The Heiress," is no prize--even her father thinks of her as "an entirely mediocre, defenseless creature without a shred of poise."

When dashing young Morris Townsend meets Catherine, though, he sees what no one has before, and confesses his love for her.

Catherine's father isn't impressed; he's convinced that what Townsend has fallen in love with is Catherine's considerable fortune.

Father may be right. After all, though Morris is used to money, he's fresh out of it.

Or, father may be mistaken, simply disappointed that Catherine is no match for her beautiful, witty mother, who died young.

In either case, the onset of first love is helping Catherine bloom like never before.

What follows may not be what you expect, a quality that probably helped the 1947 play--itself based on Henry James' "Washington Square"--become a hit film two years later, with Olivia de Havilland winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of spinster Catherine.

With more talent than physical resources, director Michael Jordan and his cast have mounted a feisty, three-hanky production of "The Heiress," now playing weekends at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks.

Yvonne Golomb is very powerful as Catherine, transforming what Helen Gurley Brown would term a "mouseburger" into a strong, independent woman of the 1850s.

Bernard Hamel co-stars as Morris Townsend, balancing his charm and his somewhat oily character in such a way that observers might defend or doubt his motives with equal legitimacy--no minor accomplishment.

Steven Horton plays Dr. Austin Sloper, Catherine's father, in a mumbling, distracted manner that might be more appropriate in a film than in a theatrical production in which all of the other characters emote strongly; he has, though, an undeniable grasp of the unloving father's character, originated on Broadway by Basil Rathbone.

Karen Mallicoat, Nan Stark, Candice Scott-Peyton and Toni Beery portray interested relatives, Ed Greene appears briefly as Morris' brother, and Melanie Manos is seen as a fetching domestic.

The remarkably versatile Arts Council Center theater--in what used to be a living room--has been arranged so that the audience forms a U around the stage, virtually involving the onlookers in the action.

WHERE AND WHEN

"The Heiress" plays Friday through Sunday nights through Oct. 28 (except Friday, Oct. 26) at the Arts Council Center, 402 Greenmeadow Road in Thousand Oaks. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sunday shows begin at 7. General admission tickets are $7, and $6 for students and seniors. Call (805) 499-4355 for reservations or further information.

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