The Heiress, Starring Jessica Chastain, Dan Stevens, David Strathairn, Judith Ivey, Opens on Broadway
By Kenneth Jones
The new Broadway production of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's period drama The Heiress opens Nov. 1 following previews from Oct. 6 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain ("The Help") plays the awkward Catherine Sloper, with "Downton Abbey" star Dan Stevens as a handsome suitor, Morris Townsend, who arrives on her doorstep. Windows and doors figure prominently in the 1947 drama set in 1850 New York City.
In the durable play about manners, mores, marriage and money, 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. Austin Sloper, with two-time Tony Award winner Judith Ivey (Steaming, Hurlyburly) as romantic-at-the-core Aunt Lavinia Penniman, who advocates for Catherine and Morris' practical (if potentially precarious) bond.
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 (whose motives are murky) and her cold father, a prominent medical doctor.
The American classic by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz is directed by Tony Award-nominated playwright and director Moisés Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife, 33 Variations, The Laramie Project). His cast also includes Molly Camp as Marian Almond, Kieran Campion as Arthur Townsend, Virginia Kull as Maria, Dee Nelson as Mrs. Montgomery and Caitlin O'Connell as Aunt Elizabeth Almond.
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."
The Heiress — a limited run to Feb. 10, 2013 — is produced by Paula Wagner, Roy Furman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Luigi Caiola/Rose Caiola, Jim Herbert, Ted Liebowitz, Stacey Mindich, Jill Furman, Ricardo Hornos, Jon B. Platt, Eric Schmidt, Margo Lion/Rachel Weinstein and Jujamcyn Theaters.
Here's how the producers bill The Heiress: "In this timeless New York love story, a protected young woman (Jessica Chastain) finds herself caught between her steely, grief-stricken father (David Strathairn) and a mysterious, handsome suitor (Dan Stevens). The power of passion, loss and money scars their lives in this unforgettable drama."
The design team includes Derek McLane (sets), Albert Wolsky (costumes), David Lander (lighting), Peter Golub (original music) and Leon Rothenberg (sound).
Chastain played the title role of Salome opposite Al Pacino in the 2006 Los Angeles staging of Oscar Wilde's play, and appeared in Othello at the Public Theater and Rodney's Wife at Playwrights Horizons, both Off-Broadway. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance as vivacious outsider Celia Foote in "The Help," the film version of the best-selling novel. Her 2011 film credits also include "The Tree of Life," "The Debt" and "Take Shelter." The Heiress marks her Broadway debut.
Strathairn won an Emmy in 2010 for Best Supporting Actor in the HBO film "Temple Grandin." His stage work includes plays at Manhattan Theatre Club, the New York Shakespeare Festival, SoHo Rep, Hartford Stage, Ensemble Studio Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Later this year he will appear opposite Daniel Day Lewis in the feature film "Lincoln," directed by Steven Spielberg.
Ivey appeared in the 1997 film "Washington Square." She starred in four television series, including "Designing Women." Recent television appearances include "Nurse Jackie," "Big Love," "Person of Interest," "White Collar," "Grey's Anatomy." Her recent New York stage performances include Eppie Lederer/Ann Landers in The Lady with all the Answers at the Cherry Lane, Shirley Valentine at the Long Wharf Theatre, and as Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie at Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre, for which she received the Lucille Lortel Award.
In 1995, Lincoln Center Theater had a major hit with a revival of The Heiress. It won Tony Awards for Best Revival, Best Actress (Cherry Jones), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Frances Sternhagen) and Best Direction of a Play (Gerald Gutierrez). It was the third Broadway revival for the play, and was celebrated for adding depth and psychological heft to a work that could be lazily sold as melodrama.
The property was a famous 1949 Hollywood film starring Olivia de Havilland (who won the Best Actress Oscar for her work) and Montgomery Clift. It was nominated for Best Picture.
Together Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz wrote the Broadway plays Franklin Street (1940); One Man Show (1945); The Immoralist (1954), an adaptation from the novel by Andre Gide; and The Hidden River (1957), an adaptation of a novel by Storm Jameson. The Goetzes also collaborated on the films "The Heiress" (Academy Award, 1949), "Sister Carrie" (1950), "Rhapsody," "Trapeze" and "Stagestruck." Ruth Goetz is the sole author of the plays Sweet Love Remembered (1959), written after her husband's death in 1957; and Madly in Love (1963).
Tickets for The Heiress are on sale at Telecharge.com, or by calling (212) 239-6200 and at the box office of the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 W. 48th St.).
Ticket prices range from $50 to $135. Group bookings are being accepted now. Visit telecharge.com/groups or call Telecharge Group Sales at (800) 432-7780.
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