The new Broadway production of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's period drama The Heiress begins previews at the Walter Kerr Theatre Oct. 6. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain ("The Help") plays the awkward Catherine Sloper, with "Downton Abbey" star Dan Stevens as a handsome suitor who arrives on her doorstep. Windows and doors figure prominently in the drama.
In the 1850-set play, inspired by the 1880 Henry James novel "Washington Square," Oscar nominee and Emmy Award winner David Strathairn ("Good Night and Good Luck," "Temple Grandin") plays Catherine's widower father, Dr. Sloper, with two-time Tony Award winner Judith Ivey (Steaming, Hurlyburly) as romantic-at-the-core Aunt Lavinia Penniman.
The socially stunted, shy-around-men Catherine — billed by her own father as not "clever" — learns the rules of the world as she is caught between newcomer Morris Townsend (whose motives are murky) and her cold father.
British actor Stevens is known to millions of international TV viewers as romantic lead Matthew Crawley on the period drama series "Downton Abbey," also about a rich daughter seeking love and the protection of her estate. Stevens has a university degree in literature, and had knowledge of the work of Henry James before this project.
"The American poet Hart Crane was somebody I wrote my dissertation on," Stevens told Playbill.com in between rehearsals. "He wrote a very famous poem called 'The Bridge,' all about the Brooklyn Bridge in the '20s. I became obsessed with him. So, New York has always been very close to my heart. And Henry James: I obviously read him as a student, and was always intrigued by him. I did an adaptation of a British novel called 'The Line of Beauty' a few years ago which was almost a direct homage to Henry James. I got very interested in him back then. He's a very interesting author. He's somebody who translates, dramatically, extremely well. He really understands private inner lives and the way that they interact, and that makes for really intriguing drama."
Stevens said that he's enjoyed biting into his Heiress character's inner conflict — "that paradox of when you fall in love with somebody and you fall in love with their things, and their way of life. Both of these things are attractive, and yet in order to get through to the truth of one you have to try and remove the reality of the other. It's a great thing to explore."