‘The Heiress’: An Inside Look

It all starts with a word: Audition. A thrill rumbles through anyone who’s been onstage as they glance over the title, the description, the characters. This time, it’s The Heiress at TAG (The Actors’ Group). I saw that old film and remember being utterly glued to the screen as the poor girl is emotionally pummeled by her aloof father, but then finds comfort in a dashing gentleman caller. But is he just a gold digger? Ooh, I must have a role in this meaty classic.


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Ann Brandman as coy Mrs. Penniman, Therese Olival as longsuffering Catherine, Gerald Altwies as impassive Dr. Sloper and Dezmond Gilla as dashing Morris Townsend stir up some intrigue in ‘The Heiress.’ (Not pictured, but no less entertaining, are Liz Stone, Claire Fallon, Timothy Callais and Jackie Young.) Photo by Edo Natasha

Stepping into the room full of hopefuls, all that initial excitement tightens into a knot in my throat, as director Peggy Anne Siegmund watches over the stage with steely attention. I step in front of everyone and do my rendition of the suitor’s sister, then each of the father’s sisters and begin to wonder what I’m doing. I haven’t been on a stage in 10 years and there are some veteran actors here.

Nevertheless, going home, each minute that passes without a phone call gnaws at me until the next morning, when an innocent little email contains the crucial word: Callback. Chee-ha! After that, momentum kicks into overdrive. The next email lists the cast and there’s my name: “Rasa – Mrs. Almond,” a tad of a part that elates me. We have our first read through and the performers are all perfect – some of the best on the island – and so is the play with its delicious literary phrasing.

We begin stumbling through our lines, our stage movements. Each day brings new exhilaration as props and costumes arrive, and the set starts coming together. Those little TAG menehune seem to work all night – painting, sawing, nailing. Each day for two months, hours go into completing a show, and it’s volunteer work, from the gorgeous costumes, hair and makeup, to lighting, stage design, furniture, props, sound, photos, posters and postcards. These professionals put a tremendous amount of research into making the look of the stage and characters authentic.

When the actors gather for our cast photos, that’s perhaps the first time it all feels real because we’re in costume, in character and preparing to present ourselves to the public, our dear critics. A heightened sense of nervousness pervades the theater as opening night comes tick, tick, ticking toward us.

Much hammering of words into one’s head, plenty of backstage banter in tight hallways, and much soul-searching for character later, and we seem to have arrived at a presentable production. Having existed only in the bubble of my own role, I stay one night for the first time to watch the entire show play out.

Father (Gerald Altwies) and daughter (Therese Olival) wrangle with witty sarcasm, daughter and aunt (Ann Brandman) conspire, consumed with romantic notions, and daughter and suitor (Dezmond Gilla) share amorous-cum-problematic relations. To see Olival’s little frame wracked with anxiety, the terror in her eyes, as her character Catherine, the heroine, encounters rejection upon rejection … Well, that’s a rock lodged in your chest, if you don’t feel it breaking. Each character presents such compelling arguments that you’ll find your sympathies shifting with each new development.

These lead characters fall into their roles so naturally that you’re forgiven if you overlook how much effort goes into appearing as though they’re the genuine article and not exerting themselves at all. Olival’s nuanced transformation from a faltering, timid creature to capable and commanding, fueled by the stirrings of a woman scorned, is breathtaking. You’ll find yourself willingly sucked into Heiress‘ intimate tale of love, money and fractured relationships.

the TICKET stub
When: Oct. 11-Nov. 3, Thursday-Sunday
Where: TAG (650 Iwilei Road, Suite 101)
Cost: $12-$20
More Info: 722-6941, taghawaii.net