Inheriting a fortune and then being besieged by suitors who claim to love you was just as much of a problem back in the days of novelist Henry James as it is now, hence the ongoing popularity of “The Heiress,” a James adaptation for the stage that opens this coming Wednesday as the second play of SBCC Theatre Group’s 2014-15 season.
Based on “Washington Square,” Augustus and Ruth Goetz adapted Mr. James’ 1880 novel into a play in 1947 and then into a 1949 film version starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift. It’s a play of ambiguous motives, abuse and bitter recriminations, just the kind of heady drama that actors and directors love to sink their teeth into. And this production boasts a strong crew.
Head of the SBCC Theatre Department, Katie Laris, brought in Judy Garey as guest director, having worked with her a few years ago on “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Ms. Laris was also bringing Ms. Garey out of retirement, as Ms. Garey had just finished 22 years teaching drama at Ventura College. Before that, she had directed at SBCC, leading the college’s well-loved and well-remembered production of “Biloxi Blues” to Washington, D.C. “Retirement is very nice!” Ms. Garey jokes, adding, “We in the theater world are lucky to be doing something we love,” so it was never a problem to come back to the stage.
Ms. Garey has assembled a great cast: Veteran Genesis West member Tom Hinshaw plays Dr. Austin Sloper, the family patriarch and owner of a vast fortune. Leslie Gangl-Howe and Leslie Ann Story play Sloper’s sisters, Josh Jenkins plays Morris, the young man who falls in love with Sloper’s daughter Catherine, the heiress of the title. Ms. Garey has cast Equity member Avery Clyde, who has history in and awards from L.A.’s theater scene, as Catherine.
“Avery is incredibly talented and brings a terrific background,” Ms. Garey says. “Her Catherine is that very shy kind of person who is on her way to becoming a spinster.” So when Catherine does find love with one of her cousin’s friends, the father can’t help but suspect he’s only in it for the money.
Even though the story is old, “the same thing can happen today,” Ms. Garey says. And it does.
These are very complex characters, Ms. Garey continues, adding that all the actors have had a lot of work to do. Fortunately, there is a novel to dive into, and James adds plenty of backstory.
“Most of the cast has read the book by now,” Ms. Garey says. “Usually a play is just words and actions and actors have to fill in the blanks, but James has so much description. Not to say that replaces what the actors have to do, but it gives them a lot of imagery and knowledge of the time.”
Ms. Garey is fascinated with the customs of the time shown in the play, and hopes audiences will like it too. “These days if a daughter didn’t like her father’s decision, she’d say, ‘So what, I’m gone,’ ” she says. “There were very specific social rules and costumes that people really did follow. The propriety, how people behaved. So it was so much more significant when people did not follow those mores.
“Today there’s much more respect for the individual. We’ve moved beyond that, so that’s good.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, October 17-November 1
(Previews Wed.-Thurs, October 19 performance is live captioned)
Where: SBCC’s Garvin Theatre
Information: (805) 965-5935 or www.theatregroupsbcc.com