The first thing that jumped out was the set. I knew going in that “The Heiress” was set in the 19th century, but I wasn’t prepared for furniture and décor that seemed so accessible.
The couches and end tables looked like something from an antiques shop in downtown Fredericksburg, and the molding around the door frames and windows aligned with the basic concept of colonial-era architecture, seen in various buildings and houses on campus.
I felt immediately at home, despite the set’s attempt at breaking through the common handicap of anachronisms to portray the image of upper-class society in the 1800s.
The lights dimmed, and I settled into a seat in the middle of the left-hand section in the audience. As the lights came up onstage and the characters began to move and speak, it became apparent right away that this show featured actors and actresses with a range of abilities.
Junior Faqir Qarghah flowed effortlessly in the role of Dr. Austin Sloper, a man deeply troubled by his wife’s death and his daughter’s problems attracting an acceptable suitor because of her mundane personality. Qarghah gave the role a depth necessary to effectively convey Sloper’s complex inner turmoil to the audience.
Qargah talent, training, and experience onstage also showed, as his voice soared clearly past the stage into the audience, supported by perfect diaphragmatic control. Granted, he wasn’t corseted, as all of the women in the play were. Regardless of the costume he sported, the delivery of his lines to the audience was eloquent, bringing us into the very believable world of his character with ease.
Sophomore Cassandra Lewis, who was far too pretty to play the role of the doctor’s ugly daughter Catherine, likewise showed a great deal of experience onstage, although she portrayed the inner emotions of her character with far more vigor in Act Two than in Act One.
In the climactic scene where Catherine realizes that her suitor is not returning to elope with her because she has rejected her inheritance along with her father’s approval of their pending marriage, she cries loudly that she might be stupid, but that she has felt everything.
The audience was silent, watching mesmerized as this character before them suffered from what many would call the worst fate possible- the fate of being entirely unloved by every person in one’s life.
Even while navigating the challenges of a corset and a very large hoop skirt, Lewis acted the role of Catherine with grace and confidence, while including just the right amount of nervous self-conscious behavior to convince the audience of her character’s personality traits.
However, while the Sloper family was played with a certain dexterity, the role of Morris Townsend, the suitor that jilts Catherine, was played with something less than finesse. Freshman Chris Shea moved in and out of character throughout the entire play. He would connect with Morris one moment, only to desert him entirely the instant he was done speaking.
Traces of the character were present, especially during the scene where Morris confronts Dr. Sloper and yells at him. But Shea spent most of the play looking largely stiff and awkward, losing his characterization more often that he had it and failing to project his voice with clear articulation.
The maid in the play outshined his character, with her genuine demeanor and light, lilting Irish accent. Several audience members exiting the theater in front of me after the play finished even wondered aloud if Shea himself had some sort of accent or lisp.
Despite this setback, the play was overall a success. It touched on the timeless conflict between money and love, and in lieu of a happy ending, the main characters are left in less-than-desirable situations.
But instead of causing the audience to despair, the recession-influenced mindset of today’s era serves as a reminder that love and happiness do not always come with money, leaving the audience hopeful that they can avoid Catherine’s fate in lieu of our current economic struggle.