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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE HEIRESS
at Walter Kerr Theatre

HIDDEN MOTIVES
By MATT WINDMAN

  Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The Heiress, a 1947 costume drama by Ruth and August Goetz based on the 1880 Henry James novel Washington Square, has been revived on Broadway with the same regularity as other far more substantial classics of American drama.  

Even Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which is currently receiving its fourth Broadway production, lags behind The Heiress, which just opened on Broadway for the fifth time. The play’s last revival, produced in 1995 by Lincoln Center Theater, starred Cherry Jones, Philip Bosco, Katie Finneran and Frances Sternhagen. Not too shabby.

While The Heiress might fall short of being great dramatic literature, it does make for a durably entertaining star vehicle filled with elaborate turn-of-the-century costumes and plenty of bold, over-the-top dramatic gestures.

Catherine Sloper (Jessica Chastain), the unattractive and dull daughter of Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn), is aggressively courted by the penniless suitor Morris Townsend (Dan Stevens), which leads Dr. Sloper to believe that Morris is interested only in Catherine’s money.

As the play goes along, Catherine learns the apparent truth about Morris’ attraction and her father’s contempt, which causes her to grow hard as nails. In the famous final scene, Catherine orders that the townhouse door be bolted shut while Morris knocks frantically from the outside.

Moises Kaufman, who is best known for devising pieces of documentary theater like The Laramie Project, provides a traditional, consistently entertaining production marked by several excellent performances and an elaborate drawing room set design.

To suit her role, Chastain, who received an Oscar nomination for The Help, is made to look especially unattractive and act awkward. But what really distinguishes her performance, which marks her Broadway debut, is how she convincingly evolves from an insecure young girl into a steely, matured woman.

Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley on the very popular television series Downton Abbey, also makes a fine Broadway debut, hiding what appear to be unsavory motives behind a sunny, guileless façade.

Strathairn brings a dour disposition to the role of the doctor, who has some especially harsh words for his daughter, while Judith Ivey maintains a sweet and lively presence as Catherine’s warm aunt Lavinia. 

 


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