When speaking of violence these days, one most often talks of guns and bullets and bloody images on big screens in dark theatres or beatings in big city parks. But in the Old Lyric Repertory Company's production of "The Heiress," one sees a more profound kind of violence that can take place even within the bounds of a home, where words function as weapons and where insides spill onto the floor to show for it.

The play is an adaptation by Ruth and Augustus Goetz of Henry James's novel "Washington Square" (and a much better rendering of the story). When we first see Catherine (Rebecca Roylance Waddoups), she is in the habit of making more silences than she does talk, much to her father, Dr. Sloper's (Fred Willecke) dismay. His words comparing Catherine's lack of beauty and wit to the abundance of gifts her deceased mother possessed, and his inferences that her birth killed his beloved wife, form the blows he delivers.He tells her companion, Lavinia (Linda Mugleston) to try and make her clever, for she is "good for nothing unless (she is) clever." Catherine's habit of looking at the floor when she speaks to him implies that these are not the first wounds she's received.

When she falls in love with Morris Townsend (Leigh Selting), and it is discovered that he is penniless and living off his equally penniless sister, Dr. Sloper threatens his daughter with the loss of her inheritance if she decides to marry.

He suspects Townsend's sudden interest in his daughter extends only to her money, but Catherine is soothed by the words he delivers to her.

They begin to fill in the holes pummeled through her by her father's words. She tells her father she is willing to give up the money in order to be with Townsend. But when she tells her suitor, he leaves her. Her discovery of this is the most violent scene of the play. Her companion, Lavinia, tries to hold her, but her father's predictions have achieved their fruition. As they beat against her, she wails as though her insides were coming out.

When Townsend comes calling two years later, Catherine agrees to see him.

He restates his love for her, discovers she retained her inheritance and proposes marriage. But what Townsend doesn't know is that in his absence, she became the clever girl her father always wanted her to be. Her final, weaponless act leaves Townsend screaming in his anguish.

Throughout the play, the parlor evolves from upper-class sitting room to a killing field. The set, designed by Dennis Hassan and composed of elegant furniture and long, wide windows, betrays itself. No matter where Catherine sits or stands, she meets a loaded phrase from her father. Waddoups as Catherine is brilliant in her delivery. Her ebullient response to Townsend's revelation of love is heartbreaking, and her tearful lament of Townsend's jilting her is even more devastating.

But the most tragic aspect of the play is not Townsend's abandonment of Catherine, but her relationship with her father. From the moment Dr. Sloper steps onto the stage, his profile betrays his otherwise upstanding appearance. Willecke's carriage and subtle expressions expose the doctor's arid soul before he utters a single word. Dr. Sloper, in his obsession with being right about Townsend, with readying Catherine to marry the proper sort of person, ends up destroying all that was right and good in his daughter and dies an impoverished man.