“The Heiress” Reinterprets Henry James’ “Washington Square” For Black History Month
The California State University, Dominguez Hills Department of Theatre Arts is set to stage its third production of the 2008-2009 season, “The Heiress,” which will be performed in the university’s intimate 70-seat Edison Studio Theatre.
Set in New York’s Washington Square inside the home of Dr. Austin Sloper, “The Heiress” tells the story of his daughter, Catherine Sloper, a shy and plain young woman who falls desperately in love with a charming fortune hunter. Catherine’s lack of worldliness prevents her from realizing the young man is not entirely drawn to her charm. Conflicts arise when her father, a successful man who is admired by many, sees through the fortune hunter and forbids their marriage, forcing Catherine to choose between her loyalty to her father or her newly found love.
The period drama written by Ruth and Augustus Gotez, based on the novel “Washington Square” by Henry James, has been assembled with an all-black Sloper family in honor of Black History Month. Director Donis Leonard said he chose to stage the production with a non-traditional cast after researching the life of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African American doctor who was widely known for performing the first successful open heart surgery in the country. He was inspired to incorporate Dr. Williams’ story into “The Heiress.”
“Although it was rare, black men did indeed hold prominence before the turn of the century in the United States,” explained Leonard, professor of theater arts at CSU Dominguez Hills. “Our entire creative team, including both the scenic and costume designers were supportive of moving the story of ‘The Heiress’ to the 1890s using a non-traditional cast. We hope the audience enjoys the additions we have made.”
The cast is led by Chenaye Gaston and Charles Snyder, both senior theatre arts majors. Adding veteran stage experience to this ensemble will be Vince Conard (’06, teaching credential), a professional actor and drama teacher at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale. The cast also includes senior theatre majors Leon Clayborne; Cameren Key; Pauline Dixon; and junior Tabitha Ayou. Alumni Tiffany Cousin (’02, B.A. theatre arts) and Tamarah Searchwell (’05, B.A. theatre arts) round out the cast. Junior Barry Maxwell is the stage manager for the production.
Performances will take place over the next two weekends, with Friday and Saturday shows on Feb. 27, 28, and March 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. There will also be a Sunday matinee on March 1 and 8 at 2 p.m.
Individual ticket prices are $12 or $10 for students and senior citizens. Special group rates are available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets may be purchased by calling (310) 243-3589 or at the box office before the performances. For more information, call (310) 243-3588.
- Amy Bentley-Smith
Dominguez Hills theatre arts alumnus Vince Conard as Dr. Austin Sloper, warns his daughter Catherine,
played by senior Chenaye Gaston, against her fortune hunting suitor.
Photo by Tom Marinello