-- THE HEIRESS by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz, directed by Joseph Ziegler (Shaw). Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to October 7. $45-$76. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Henry James 's Washington Square offers a nuanced look at a shy woman romanced by a charming man and kept from him by her father, a wealthy doctor afraid that the man's a fortune hunter. It's a fascinating character study of a Juliet who's not sure she's got a reliable Romeo. Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz 's stage adaptation underscores the impetuosity of the youngsters and the caution of their elders. In the hands of a talented cast, there's the opportunity to suggest unspoken emotions in words and hint at deeper truths in looks and gestures.
The Shaw Festival production, directed by Joseph Ziegler with a stately period elegance, has that cast. It takes Tara Rosling a few minutes to settle into Catherine, the title figure, but from the first she's hesitant, almost fearful of contact, even eye contact, with all men in her world. Cowed by her father, motherless and affection-starved, it's no surprise she responds to the compliments of the elegant Morris Townsend ( Mike Shara ).
Believing that loving and being loved are the same thing, Rosling's naive Catherine blossoms with affection, never entirely losing her innocence even at her most hard-hearted moments.
Shara rightly keeps his cards close -- is he a cad or not? -- for much of the play. While he suggests that Catherine work toward getting her father's permission to wed, he's also upfront about the problem of money that stands between them.
Michael Ball 's a blunt bear of a father, gruff with Catherine and suggesting that the loss of his wife in childbirth is a tragedy for which he can never forgive his offspring. Who could warm to a parent who refers to his daughter as "a mediocre and defenceless creature without a touch of poise"? The tense scene between father and suitor, contesting Catherine's affections, is one of the production's strongest.
Ziegler's production, elegantly designed by Christina Poddubiuk and lit by Louise Guinand , is filled with fine character work, including Donna Belleville 's Aunt Lavinia, herself a little infatuated with Morris but sensing his dangerous side, Jessica Lowry as Catherine's vivacious cousin, and Catherine McGregor as Morris's sister, who will neither defend nor castigate her sibling.