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The Heiress

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Adapted to the stage by Ruth and Augustus Goetz from Henry James’ 1880 novel, Washington Square, The Heiress was a Broadway blockbuster in its 1947 premiere at the Biltmore Theatre. Basil Rathbone, well known for his multiple film characterizations of Sherlock Holmes, won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the hurtful Dr. Austin Sloper. The Heiress has since been revived a trio of times on the Great White Way, including a 1995 re-staging that won a Tony trophy for Best Revival of a Play.

Now The Heiress is receiving a proud production at the storied Pasadena Playhouse, through May 20. With decisive direction by Damaso Rodriguez, and a stellar cast – including the commanding Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Sloper and a convincing Heather Tom as his daughter, Catherine. This staging is the epitome of a well-shown story.


 Not only do the Goetz’ playwriting skills capture the emerging social structure and class sensibilities of mid-19th century America so meticulously exhibited in James’ novel, a period in the country’s history where the ascent of the “millionaire” as personified by the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor, established a new sort of Yankee aristocracy; not one based on royal lineage but, instead, a ruling class based on sheer wealth.

During this period of powerbrokers and financial freewheeling, men such as Dr. Sloper, a New York City physician, were also able to accumulate property and other assets, becoming members of a newly formed and influential New World bourgeoisie. Given such resources, Dr. Sloper, of course, has high expectations for his one and only daughter, Catherine, whose mother died giving birth to her.

Sadly, Dr. Sloper feels little more than disappointment and contempt for the woman-child who not only took his wife from him but is also unable to fulfill his expectations of “poise” and “charm.” When Morris Townsend (a chiseled Steve Coombs), a youthful gentleman at loose ends in his own life, shows affection for Catherine, Dr. Sloper is immediately suspicious of the young suitor's motivations. After all, Catherine is an heiress whose fortune includes an annuity from her mother’s death and will eventually be more than doubled by the inheritance she stands to receive from her father.

Certainly Dr. Sloper has reason to question Morris’ motivation. Is he a cad and a mere fortune seeker? Or, as Catherine believes, is Morris sincere in his proclamations of love and devotion to her. Evidence mounts that Morris is more a user than a lover. After all, as Dr. Sloper discovers, Morris lives with or off his widowed sister, Mrs. Montgomery (a live-wire interpretation by Jill Van Velzer) who, even though owning and losing a small inheritance himself,  he has never once offered to help with monetary support for her or her children. Instead, Morris spent (or, perhaps, misspent) his worth on escapades in Europe.

Unfolding on an exquisitely evocative scenic design by John Iacovelli, under Brian Gale’s punctuating lighting design and with Leah Piehl’s tailored and timely costuming, The Heiress is a nearly three-hour flashback to a bygone era. The relationships and emotions, however, are perfectly authentic and made to feel as current as today’s social calendar.

An extraordinary supporting cast, including Julia Duffy as Lavinia and Gigi Bermingham as Elizabeth, hold their own against Chamberlain’s anchoring and layered performance. Further, Tom’s portrayal of Catherine is as genuine as heartbreak itself. Catherine’s character arc is painfully and poignantly conveyed by Tom.  Aided by Doug Newell’s rich sound design, as well as his melancholy original score, we are able to intuit that however much the world may have changed since James’ novelistic interpretation of those times, the human condition and subtle the cruelties of life remain at play.

The Heiress continues at the Pasadena Playhouse – 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena – through May 20. Evening performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Matinees are at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (626) 356 – 7529. For online ticketing at further information, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.