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Scenes from 'The Heiress,' a psychological drama presented by Regent University Theatre in Virginia Beach.

Regent Theatre Presents the Psychological Drama The Heiress

By Carlee MacPherson, Student Writer

The Regent University theatre department presented a limited showing of The Heiress, by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, from March 4-7, 2021 in the Dede Robertson Theatre, located within the Performing Arts Center. Under the direction of Professor John Forkner, a 2018 MFA in Acting graduate of Regent, the Regent cast executed an engaging and captivating performance.

Based on the novel Washington Square by Henry James and set in 1850, the show takes the audience on a journey to the past — a different culture, a different society, a different time. Not only did the language and rhetoric speak to a different time in our country’s history, but the attention to detail both in the costumes and the set by both C.J. Hill (costume designer) and Dave Foster (Scenic Designer) gave the audience a snapshot of a different, distant world.

The Show

The Heiress takes place in the parlor of Dr. Austin Sloper in Washington Square in New York, weaving together a dramatic tale of wealth, young love, disappointment, and betrayal. Scene 1 opens with the return of Dr. Austin Sloper, portrayed by third-year MFA in Acting student Remy Patterson, who greets his widowed sister (played by Nyoka Muawad, in her final semester of the MFA in Acting program) who is staying in his home. The sibling duo played by Patterson and Muawad had delightful chemistry with well-executed, candid banter. Next to join the set was Catherine Sloper (played by third-year MFA in Acting student Gabrielle Bauman), the daughter of Dr. Sloper who is desperate for his attention. From her first moments on stage Bauman captivated her audience with her convincing quest for love and affection.  

The play’s progression was aided by the introduction of even more characters: Maria (played by Bella Wisham, senior in the BFA in Acting program); Catherine’s cousin Marian (played by Elisa Cortez, senior in the BFA in Acting program; her fiance Arthur Townsend (portrayed by Jaydon Davidson, in his second Regent production ); Marian’s mother, Mrs. Almond (played by Virginia Hawley, junior in the BFA in Acting program); and finally Morris Townsend (played by Vincent Harrill, junior in the BFA in Acting program). Morris, as the audience learns in later scenes, is the soon-to-be love interest of Catherine but Dr. Sloper’s antagonist. 

The relationship between Morris and Catherine was excellently portrayed. Bauman expertly transitioned her character from a shy, quiet, and timid woman to one boldly enamored by her new love interest. Harrill effortlessly assumed the role of an extroverted, lovesick young man. Together, the pair depicted the intensity and struggle of a couple facing familial adversity and guided the audience brilliantly through a series of plot twists.

The trouble that the lovestruck couple faces is largely from Dr. Sloper. He is not thrilled with the match of the two, questioning Morris Townsend’s motives: Is he seeking to gain his daughter or the large fortune she is about to inherit from her father? Dr. Sloper’s interaction with Townsend’s sister, Mrs. Montgomery (played by Elissa Newton. a fourth-year B.A. in Theater and English student), shows exactly how intense and serious he is about discovering the truth.

Patterson and Harrill convincingly portrayed the tension of the protective father and confident gentleman caller, and the audience was drawn in from the first signs of the struggle. The escalating argument that the adversaries find themselves in reveals both the character of Morris and the fierce and wise love of a father who only wants the best for his child (even if she disagrees with his concerns). As the first act closes, Catherine and Morris agree to hold off on marriage, at Dr. Sloper’s request, for the duration of a six-month European excursion. 

Act Two is largely a story of heartache. Bauman portrays the broken heart of a young woman whose first love disappoints her, as Morris abandons Catherine on the night they are to elope. Catherine’s pain intensifies with the news that while her future is seemingly hopeless, the future of her cousin is bright with the promise of a growing family.

In revealing that his character, Dr. Sloper, is dying, Patterson leaves the audience silent with the gut-wrenching emotion of what is perhaps his misunderstood love. Likewise, Bauman’s convincing depiction of Catherine’s confusion and bitterness toward her father shows the deep brokenness of their home. Finally, the revenge of Catherine against Morris when he returns years later shows exactly how deeply the scars run in her heart and how much she has been shaped by the cruelty of the men she wanted to trust most. Through Bauman, the audience could not only hear Catherine’s pain but experience it with her. 

The razor-sharp script, coupled with believable, intelligent performances by the Regent Theatre cast, made for a memorable psychological drama. In his director notes, Forkner shows two contrasting viewpoints of the play by quoting both Henry James and Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy.” – Henry James

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Coming Up Next

The Fantasticks, by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, will run from April 23-May 2, 2021 in the Dede Robertson Theatre. Purchase your tickets by visiting www.regent.edu/tickets

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COVID-19 Regulations

Due to COVID-19 regulations, Regent Theatre has instituted these protocols for the safety of our patrons: 

  1. The 712-seat theatre has reduced capacity to 202 persons. Audience members are seated in 2-4 person parties, with three empty seats between parties. In addition, seating rows are alternated with non-seating rows.
  2. Health screenings are conducted of all audience members as they enter the building.
  3. Masks are required in all public areas.
  4. Hand sanitizer is provided in the lobbies.
  5. Seats are sanitized between performances.

While the theatre may look a bit different, you can still expect a delightful experience and enjoy the show confidently knowing your safety and health are of the utmost importance to the staff at Regent University.