NEW CANAAN — What’s a girl to think when a handsome and penniless suitor shows up at her door and her father doesn’t approve? This is the dilemma facing Catherine Sloper, one of the main characters in “The Heiress,” a drama being put on by the Town Players of New Canaan.

But as much as the show is a drama, it is also a mystery. Up until the end of the show, the audience is left wondering about the intentions of Morris Townsend, Catherine’s poor — but appealing — suitor.

“The biggest question of the play is ‘What are his true motivations?’” said Rob Rosado, who plays Morris. “Does he love her or is he doing it to benefit from her inheritance? It’s exploring the moral ambiguity of this character.”

“The Heiress” is based on the Henry James novel “Washington Square” and set in New York City in the 1850s. The show opens Feb. 23 and runs through March 2. Far from a comedy which relies on slapstick stereotypes, it explores the subtleties of each of the main characters: Catherine, Morris and Catherine’s father, Dr. Austin Sloper.

“Dr. Sloper is a wealthy doctor in the 1850s living in New York City with his daughter in a really nice brownstone,” said Stamford resident Mark Sank, who plays Catherine’s father. “He lost his wife while she was giving birth and he is very protective of his daughter and somewhat dismayed by her inability to live up to his expectations, that she would be as lovely, graceful and as charming as her mother in his eyes.”

It’s this sense of disappointment which shapes Catherine into the unsure young woman she is at the start of the play.

More Information

See the show

Powerhouse Performing Arts Center, 679 South Ave., Waveny Park

Fridays and Saturdays through March 10 at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

For tickets, call 203-594-3636 or visit

“Catherine is, I think, in a lot of ways every young woman,” said Ash Lago, who plays the part. “She wants to be accepted by her family and to find love. In this case, she’s especially desperate for this because her father has been trying to bring her up in her mother’s image and she just fails at that, in his opinion, in every way and it really does a number on her self esteem. I think that’s really what makes her so susceptible to Morris even though other people are suspicious of him.”

Lago, who live in New Haven and works at Yale University Press, was motivated to come down to New Canaan to be a part of the show because of the nuances of the three main characters. In fact, all three of the leads said they auditioned for the Town Players specifically to be in this show, drawn to it for its clever humor and emotional depth.

“‘The Heiress’ is such a spectacular show because the depth of the characters and each of their issues,” she said. “They’re subtle issues. There’s this really dysfunctional dynamic between Catherine and her father that gives you so much to work with as an actor.”

Both Lago and Rosado said it’s easy to fall into the trap of exaggerating their characters, but it’s the subtlety that makes the show all the more compelling. Rosado said he has a backstory for his character to help guide his own performance.

“I wanted to honor the full complexity of the character,” the Norwalk resident said. “A part of that was exploring his attraction to Catherine. Her father considers her to be mediocre, unappealing and dull, but there are things about Catherine that are very appealing so I didn’t think it made sense for Morris in some ways to not be attracted to her.”

Equally alluring is the humor of the show, despite it being a drama. Sank was moved to audition for the show for its wry humor which, in addition to its thought-provoking ending, is what stuck with him about it after seeing it on Broadway in the ‘90s.

“It’s an incredibly well-written production with a lot of emotion and dry humor,” Sank said. “Dr. Sloper has a very dry wit and a lot of humor is going to come through throughout the production despite the sadness.”; @erin_kayata