REVIEW: Great performances grace The Heiress at Country Playhouse

What a won­derful show.

Our heiress was reproached for using that adjective as she was for everything, despite how wonderful she really was. No song and dance, The Heir­ess is drama at its most compelling, a character study with depth.

Set in 1850 in an affluent New York City home, the play revolves around the lives of a widower doctor and his daugh­ter. Catherine has become an awkward, shrinking violet due to the constant whisper (shout) of criticism bestowed upon her.

Perhaps her father, the doctor, who has a claim that she "killed her [mother] by being born" was at the root of the matter? If self esteem is derived from father to daughter then his claim that her only talent is neat embroidery manifests itself, but hopefully does not overtake her spirit.

Based on a novel by Henry James called Washington Square, the show began as a Broadway play in 1947 and was later an Academy award winning film.

Tova Smith plays the heir­ess, Catherine Sloper, a poor little rich girl, with great skill. Her demeanor shrinks as her father heaps further reproaches upon her; her facial features, wringing hands, and stooping frame comply with her ever-demurring dialogue.

Jeffrey Wetsch plays her charm­ing suitor so well that many audience members are taken in by his "loving" though rather hasty pursuit of her (or her 30 thousand per year – a huge sum in those days). Smelling of bay rum and adula­ting over the finery in the home, the audience still wants to believe that his intentions are good. Later, upon his return from an unsuccessful  trip to New Orleans his whole person­ality is convincingly altered.

C. David Johnson, as her father, plays the stern stuffed shirt with classic harrumph. His live-in widow sister, Lavinia, is played very well with her somehow misplaced compas­sion by Michelle Fisk.

Adding interest and charm as various relatives and foils are Susie Burnett as Marian Almond, Jane Spence as Mrs. Montgomery, Jane Spidell as Mrs. Elizabeth Almond, and Brendan Rowland as Arthur Townsend.          

Making the most of a part that suggests more is  Sophia Koli­nas as the pale Irish house­keeper.

Director David Latham has worked all over the world and brought that experience to this production.

Allan Wilbee as set and costume designer has created a beautiful stage with depth and opulence that will be a shame to dismantle. The costumes are equally beautiful, with lovely fabrics and designs authentic to the period.

The dresses, cloaks, coats, and even the mourning outfits are ever changing with the scenes and contribute a great deal to the production.

Lighting design by Kevin Fraser is also excellent and noticeable in its conveyance of mood, hour and season.

No wonder this wonderful show is a favourite of artistic director Alex Mustakas, as revealed on opening night to further tempt the audience.

The Heiress plays at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse through Oct. 25. Tickets can be ordered by calling the box office at 519-747-7788 or toll free 1-888-449-4463. For more information visit www.dray­