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'Heiress': Does father know best?

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'Heiress': Does father know best?
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Preview

"The Heiress," a play staged by the University of Montana Department of Drama/Dance, will be performed nightly Tuesday, Nov. 7 through Saturday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m. at UM's Montana Theatre in the Performing Arts/Radio-TV Center. Tickets are $12 for the general public and $10 for students and seniors. For tickets, or additional information, call 243-4581 Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

"The Heiress," a play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz based on "Washington Square," a novel by Henry James, was adapted to the silver screen in a 1949 movie that drew a flood of Academy Award nominations.

Missoula audiences get a chance to see the stage version Tuesday through Saturday next week in a production by the University of Montana Department of Drama/Dance.

Typical of James' work, the play adaptation of his novel is a compelling psychological study, in this case, of the effects of a stern, controlling parent's love on his daughter.

The story is set in New York City's fashionable Washington Square district in 1850.

It is the tale of an awkward, shy young woman, Catherine Sloper, who lives in opulence with her dour, widowed father. He takes every opportunity to remind her that she's not the enchanting, radiant woman he married, who died giving birth to Catherine. When a handsome and dashing gentleman - Mr. Morris Townsend - is introduced to her, he professes his immediate attraction for her charms.

The father quickly surmises that Morris is nothing more than a fortune hunter. Catherine, meanwhile, uneasily accepts his courtship and eventually falls in love.

"It's a very interesting triangle between a father and his daughter and a gentleman caller, who may, or may not be in love with her," said Greg Johnson, professor of drama at UM.

The play is directed by UM drama graduate student Gretchen Baer. It stars UM graduate students Kathryn Carter and Mike Verdon as Catherine and her father, and UM undergraduate drama student Andy Greenfield as Morris.

"The great thing about this play," said Johnson, "is that you never know who is telling the truth. Is the gentleman caller really sincere? Or is he a blackguard, or an honest man, or a hero? James is brilliant at creating the suspense."

The play adaptation lends itself to a variety of interpretations, Johnson said.

"Gretchen (Baer) would say this is a coming-of-age story," he said. "What is the point of this young woman throwing off the shackles of this dominant, domineering father? It's a great piece of literature with a lot of ambiguity."

Reporter Daryl Gadbow can be reached at 523-5264 or by e-mail at dgadbow@missoulian.com.

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