Jessica Chastain on Broadway In The Heiress: My Review

Categories: Theater

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A well made play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, adapted from Henry James' 1880 novel Washington Square, The Heiress is back in a sturdy if not revelatory production.

The play was last on Broadway in 1995, in a stunning revival starring Cherry Jones as Catherine Sloper, the shy plain Jane who's awakened by a questionable man's affections.

This time, in a production directed by Moises Kaufman, we're reminded that the play's merits aren't its bouts of exposition or its occasionally banal chatter.

It's the way the complex dynamics play out between father and daughter, and daughter and potential husband.

The relationships take surprising turns--even when dad's cynicism is on target, Catherine finds it unnecessarily cruel--as the heiress herself becomes distant and hardened, admitting she's learned how to do so from masters.

Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is a fine actress who seems incapable of a false move, giving a naturalistic performance, though I found some of her moments flat, needing a bit more awakened fire.

David Strathairn is very good as her father, never going for easy villainy, even as he belittles Catherine and says her main value is her money.

Judith Ivey is full of verve as the meddlesome aunt who'd love a happy ending, especially if she could get points for having engineered it.

And Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens makes his Broadway debut as Morris, the suitor with a lust for, I mean heart of gold. Stevens is a bit too transparent in Act One, but more effective in the second half, when he gets another chance at going for broke and wooing the rich girl.

The set by Derek McLane and costumes by Albert Wolsky are top notch, and though this Heiress doesn't pack the wallop it could, it has an integrity that Morris the suitor can't seem to fathom.

And that's rich.

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2 comments
blissbaby
blissbaby

This review seems more fair and balanced than the NY Times one, which pretty much savaged it.

SouthernDave
SouthernDave

For me, the play is worthwhile if the actors are first-rate, the play has been sensibly trimmed and that one unforgettable exchange at the end works, when the aunt asks Catherine, "How can you be so cruel?"

 

And Catherine answers, "I have been taught -- by experts."

 

Lots of ways to read that line, but it never fails to give me a shiver of pleasure.

 

As for trimming, playwright-humorist Jean Kerr once wrote, "I don't want to see the uncut version of ANYTHING."

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