Sac State theatre students and staff come together to put on “The Heiress”

Johanna Pugh

A lot time, energy and creativity goes into making the world of a play come to life.

From the stagecraft crew who construct the impressively realistic set the actors perform in and the technical crew who manage the lighting and sound, to the makeup artists and costume designers, stagehands and stage managers who spend hours each night making sure everything runs smoothly, there are a lot of players committed to a theatrical production.

Sacramento State theater students and staff come together to put on “The Heiress.” The play, which opened Oct. 22 in the University Theater, is directed by theater professor Michelle Felten.

“The Heiress” tells the story of Catherine Sloper (Elizabeth Ferreira), a young, wealthy and withdrawn woman who, upon the death of her father, Dr. Sloper (Sean Morneau) will inherit a substantial amount of money if her father approves of who she marries. When she meets and falls in love with Morris Townshend (Brent Bianchini), a charming, lower-class man, she is faced with believing her father’s assumption Morris is merely after her inheritance or choosing to believe he is truly the love of her life.

Although the play, written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, is set in the 1850s, the play’s crew assert audiences will find the material and Catherine accessible.

“Catherine is an extremely relatable character,” said Pano Roditis, 19, stage manager for the production. “She’s shy and awkward at first and finds herself manipulated by the people around her.”

Ferreira considers the play to be an early feminist piece which finds Catherine, amid strong male characters, making choices for herself.

“Even if it is set in a different time period, I think it’s really relatable, especially for girls,” said theater major Justine Rea, 21, who plays Maria, the Slopers’ housemaid.

There is something both subtle and poignant in the way Ferreira plays Catherine. The audience is with Catherine when she struggles to be herself in front of others, they are with her when Morris smiles and asks for her hand in marriage and they are with her when she is sprawled on the ground, clutching her chest in heartbreak.

“The audience is so enamored by the young lovers,” said Claudia Wrazel, as she re-enters backstage for a costume change on opening night Oct. 22. Wrazel plays the energetic Lavinia Penniman, Catherine’s aunt who encourages her to marry Morris.

For the first half of the play the audience laughs, and as tensions build between Dr. Sloper, Catherine and Morris, the audience quiets. The actresses, busy backstage with applying makeup and fastening themselves into hoop skirts, paused and noted the change in the audiences’ demeanor over the intercom located in their dressing room.

“Once they get to the second act, they’re going to feel so betrayed,” joked Miranda O’Connor, 20, an English major and theater minor who plays Mrs. Montgomery, Morris’ sister.

Ferreira said the play takes unexpected turns and she wants the audience to leave the theater in thought.

“I want them to leave with a question,” Ferreira said. “I’d be happy if there’s this 50-50 split–if half the audience agreed with what Catherine did and the other half didn’t. I think theater is supposed to provoke people. It changes every night and it makes people think. That’s what makes it better than seeing a movie.”

Cast and members said the play allows viewers to access the intentions of the characters for themselves.

“It’s like real life–nothing is one-sided,” said theater major Aldrinne Merluza, 23, who is part of the stage crew in charge of set changes and props. “Each party involved has their reasons for doing what they think is right. There are a lot of good intentions.”

These good intentions are not always clear. Ferreira said the audience will never be quite sure about Morris’ moral ambiguity and what Catherine’s decision is until the end of the play.

Bianchini, 27, stood in his dressing on Oct. 21 before the final dress rehearsal began and discussed how he has enjoyed working with the other actors and the rich dialogue the script provides them with.

The pre-show nerves had yet to kick in for him.

“This time tomorrow night, I’ll be nervous,” Bianchini said. “But you learn to get comfortable with the discomfort and trust that you put in the work and everything will turn out well.”

One of the assistant stage managers, theater major Kimberly Taketa, 18, said the cast began rehearsals on the first day of school.

Students involved said the way Felten worked with her actors manifests in how prepared they feel.

“Usually I’m nervous before a show, but I feel really ready,” Rea said. “I think it has a lot to do with the rehearsals being so structured. Michelle handled the rehearsal process really well.”

Ferreira said the play has been a fun and challenging experience as an actor. She credits her enjoyment of the production process to the actors she has worked alongside.

“In many ways, it has been easy, even on difficult days,” Ferreira said. “Any frustration I had was put at ease the next day because the cast is so supportive.”

This sentiment is shared by her fellow cast and crew members.

“I think everybody’s been really good to work with. We have a really hard-working, strong and supportive cast and crew,” Rea said. “When you see everybody put in a lot of work, it motivates you to work just as hard.”

There is a certain camaraderie present as the crew works together backstage. There is both good humor and a strong work ethnic between them. It is clear they care about what they are doing and enjoy the people they work alongside and rely on.

“It’s been great working with everybody.” Merluza said. “We take care of each other.”

After months of rehearsal, the director, cast and crew all get to see their hard work pay off.

“The costumes are beautiful, our set is beautiful–I’m excited,” Rea said. “It’s neat to see everything come together.”

The remaining showtimes include Oct. 29 and 30 at 6:30 p.m. at a discounted price of $8 for general admission, students and senior citizens (ages 60+) and $5 for children (ages 2 to 12) and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. for $12 for general admission, $10 for Sac State students and senior citizens and $8 for children.

Tickets can be purchased in-person at the University Ticket Office located in the Athletic Center, by phone and online. The play will conclude its run on Nov. 2. with a 2 p.m. showing.