Robert Clayton, Pioneer Theatre Company
Alex Podulke as Morris Townsend, Effie Johnson as Catherine Sloper, and Thomas Carson as Dr. Austin Sloper in "The Heiress."

It has been said that the love of money is the root of all evil.

For centuries, money and love have made many artists, poets and scholars take pause. And it's a constant theme in pop culture — even the Beatles' admonished "Money Can't Buy Me Love."

Or can it?

It's 1850 in New York City's wealthy Washington Square. Catherine Sloper, an heiress and painfully shy, lives with her widowed father. That sets the stage for Pioneer Theatre Company's upcoming production of "The Heiress," by Ruth and Augustus Goetz.

Based on the classic Henry James novel, "Washington Square," "The Heiress" takes audience members to Dr. Sloper's parlor, where the dashing but penniless Morris Townsend begins to court Catherine. Needless to say, the doctor is unsure of Morris' intentions with his wealthy but homely daughter.

Love and money, the classic debate. "To me, one of the most interesting things is Morris is a fortune hunter, but so what?" said director Jack Going, who has helmed shows at PTC for the past 14 years. "They could still have a good enough marriage. She had no prospects whatsoever. Maybe it's better than nothing. What marriage is perfect?"

Playing the money-grubbing suitor is Alex Podulke, who has been on the Pioneer stage before. "I love it here. I've got this gigantic window in my apartment that has nothing but mountain in it. It's just exquisite," he said.

"The entire play deals with issues of the heart, and that never goes away. It still resonates."

Effie Johnson, in the role of the homely Catherine agrees, "I think every girl has had those feelings. And whether it is an intense as what the character feels in the play, there's a lot to relate to in it."

On a side note, Johnson recently worked with Denzel Washington in "Julius Caesar" on Broadway. "He's a wonderful, wonderful person, very kind," Johnson said. "He would stand for hours and hours at a time and sign autographs, and it was great watching him work, he's a really great actor."

PTC has filled the stage with an experienced cast, some of whom have tackled "The Heiress" before. Director Going has done the project twice before, and this is Johnson's second shot at the role of Catherine, and both love the opportunity to do it again.

"It's very helpful to do it again. You never have enough time to go as far in the role during a limited run with limited rehearsal time. So I'm able to take what I've done before and go further with it," Johnson said.

Going is also excited about the look of the play, "It takes place in 1850, which is an interesting time. It's a very rich society."

"The Heiress" has beautiful sets and lush costumes to help transport the audience to a different century. "We're also trying to create the world. The way they behaved. There is a certain reserve, elegance and confidence. Hopefully it'll be interesting for an audience to see because we don't get to see it too often," Going said.

An aging, shy daughter desperate for affection. A penniless and charming suitor. And a father who is still suffering both the loss of his wife and the fact that his daughter didn't become her.

All's fair is love and war.

If you go ...

What: The Heiress, Pioneer Theatre Company

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, University of Utah

When: Friday through March 29

How much: $21-$39 (children half price on Mondays and Tuesdays)

Phone: 581-6961

E-mail: [email protected]