The performance space — a 1917 gothic hall at First Central Congregational Church — plus antique furniture and attractive period costumes by Matthew Lott add much to transport us to 1850 New York City for the Brigit St. Brigit Theatre's production of “The Heiress.”
But it's the engaging story and solid acting, from lead players to small character roles, that make this family drama worth catching.
The well-appointed Washington Square home of Dr. Austin Sloper (Joseph Miloni) is not a happy one. Austin's wife died in childbirth. His 20-something daughter, Catherine, can never measure up to the idealized image of his charming, beautiful late wife. To him, Catherine is socially inept, unattractive and unaccomplished.
When a handsome but penniless gentleman, Morris Townsend (Will Muller), begins to court Catherine, Austin's widowed sister, the flighty and romantic Lavinia (MaryBeth Adams), aids and abets him. But the doctor suspects Morris could only be in love with Catherine's money, not his charmless daughter.
Each of the three main characters faces a test of the heart as events unfold. Each is burned in the process. Crisp, smart dialogue by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, adapted from Henry James' novel “Washington Square,” makes pleasurable eavesdropping.
Muller is spot-on as smooth-talking, fine-mannered Morris. His performance will leave some convinced he's a fortune hunter. Others may find him credible, even pitiable, in a final scene with Catherine, when he pleads his case in a new light.
Miloni's confident carriage and authoritative voice, imbued with a dash of world-weariness, perfectly suit the doctor. His delivery of withering opinions feels rapier-sharp. “Have many children,” he advises his maid, Maria (Laura Macklin-Linder), tossing the remark over his shoulder. “Don't put all your hopes in just one.” When bubble-headed Lavinia gushes that Catherine is so good and kind, Austin instantly shoots back, “You're good for nothing unless you're clever.”
But Miloni also finds moments in which to express protective fatherly concern, revealing a heart beneath the critical, bullying facade.
As Catherine, Katlynn Yost does a laudable job of transforming Catherine from a naive, open-hearted girl bullied by her father to a woman whose backbone and ready tongue come at a high price.
In supporting roles, Sydney Readman and Michael Comstock are fine as Catherine's cousin and her betrothed, who is Morris' cousin. So is Brandy Howell as Morris' sister, grilled by the doctor about her brother's character. Personal favorites: Janet Macklin as Dr. Sloper's more sensible sister, Elizabeth; and Adams as gushy Lavinia.
Saturday night's performance was plagued with minor slips — spilled wine, a dropped coin, bobbled verbiage and calling characters by the wrong name — but each time the actors smoothly corrected themselves.
Fans of the 1949 movie, for which Olivia De Havilland won an Oscar as Catherine, should enjoy this live version, smoothly staged by director Cathy Kurz.
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What: Brigit St. Brigit Theatre stage drama
Where: First Central Congregational Church, 421 S. 36th St., Thursday through Nov. 17. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Added Sunday matinee 2 p.m. Nov. 17.
Tickets: $25 adults, $20 senior citizens, military and students
Information: 402-502-4910 or bsbtheatre.com