THE HEIRESS with Jessica Chastain, Dan Stevens and David Strathairn, on Broadway
Thanks so much to Clever Housewife, MamaDrama & BlogHer for a great night of theatre on Broadway! I’m so excited to be reviewing “THE HEIRESS,” a limited engagement, period piece revival, playing at the Walter Kerr Theater in NYC, for you, here on Clever Housewife.
I have to say, a play makes such a great date night! On the way home the Mr. and I were talking about what a different experience it is to be right there in the room with those heart beating, breathing, acting individuals, so different from a movie theater experience, so tangible and exciting. And there is so much to choose from, on Broadway; big laughs, big songs, big spectacle and then plays like The Heiress, all about human drama unfolding before our eyes.
THE HEIRESS, in its fourth revival since it first debuted on Broadway in 1947, was lush, from it’s luxurious set and costuming to the fantastic lighting. Sitting there in the beautiful theater, it felt as good as reading a great novel, or rather being ring-side for the unfolding of one, and no wonder since it was originally adapted from Henry James’ 1880, Washington Square. It was high minded, beautifully written, thought provoking, quite funny and at it’s deepest, heartbreaking. I surprised myself by tearing up in sympathy, only scenes after laughing at the whit and the repartee.
Unfortunately the adorable and very talented Jessica Chastain, maybe you remember her, as Celia (my favorite character) in The Help, was not able to perform when we saw the show. I was so sad not to see her. Reviewing such a small cast without their main player is a challenge, because the chemistry can never quite be reconstructed, but there is still so much to tell, a few disappointments, and a whole lot of greatness!
While Mairin Lee did her best to fill in as Catherine Sloper, the heiress herself, her performance really left a hole at the heart of the play. She delivered her role in a redundant and even monotone character voice, which was hard to listen to after a while, and matched with equally redundant body language. Her character lacked depth and therefore understandability at points. It seemed as if the story came to meet her Catherine from the outside in, rather than watching her character meet it, and make us understand it, from the inside out.
There were a few other disappointments, in times when the emotion being played hit below the script, such as accusations of anger that didn’t exist, or defending passionate outbursts that had never occurred. But a bit of tightening up and these minor disappointments would disappear and leave an otherwise really wonderful show, spectacularly intense.
Meanwhile, maybe you have heard of a little TV show called Downton Abbey? Well, Dan Stevens, Matthew Crawley himself, is appearing on stage in THE HEIRESS. What surprised me most about seeing him in person, was how really great his voice is. Mmmm, very easy on the ears. In voice, presence and movement he embodied his character, Catherine’s suitor, Mr. Morris Townsend’s every moment. He was delightful and nervous, innocent as a child at times, and strikingly calculated at others.
I didn’t know Judith Ivey before last night, but you might have seen her on Designing Women or on Will and Grace. I will, not forget her now, though, as the adorable Aunt Lavinia Penniman in THE HEIRESS. The Mr. and I talked a lot about her character afterwards. Was she half-witted or wise beyond expectation? Was she in her own, well-meaning way, just as manipulative as other characters that surrounded the heiress? Or were her words and intentions as innocent as she was adorable? Ms. Ivey played her part perfectly in my estimation; so human, so entertaining, and so many questions left for the play-goer to answer.
And finally, David Strathairn, Edward Murrow in Good Night & Good Luck, Secretary of State,William Henry Seward in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and of course so many more, was on stage in his role as Dr. Austin Sloper, Catherine’s father. So fun to see him in person, to hear his familiar voice and watch him bring what could have been a very two-dimensional character to life with great depth and humanity. You could identify with his Dr. Sloper, understand him and even empathize. And isn’t that what theatre is all about, realizing we see ourselves somewhere on the stage, complicated and ever defensible?
Sprinkle in an adorable and entertaining maid, and a few other equaling entertaining supporting roles and over all, THE HEIRESS was a great night. It is well worth an evening out, before it’s limited run ends the tenth of February. And, if you get to see Jessica Chastain, tell her I missed her and enjoy her acclaimed, and no doubt amazing, performance for yourself!!
I received free show tickets to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed are my own.