Can a shy, sheltered and awkward yet overly devoted daughter of a famous New York City doctor living luxuriously on Washington Square who already has enough money to live on from her mother’s inheritance and stands to gain triple that amount when her father dies find true happiness and love with an animated, charming and out of work manipulator who obviously enjoys the finer things that life has to offer and wants to marry her only two weeks after they’ve met?
Thus sums up the basic plot of The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz. Written in 1947 and based on the novel WASHINGTON SQUARE by Henry James this psychological tale of revenge melodrama has seen better days.
There is really only one reason to revive this old chestnut and that is to showcase the talents of the actress playing Catherine Sloper. The producers have made a major misstep in the casting of Jessica Chastain who doesn’t inhabit the role as well as she should.
She is stilted and her line readings sound just like that. Line readings. Devoid of compassion and heart. In a word, leaden. There is no inner life here, just an exterior façade of living in the shadow of her mother’s beauty and gracefulness while falling for the handsome and duplicitous Morris (a terrific Dan Stevens).
Morris is a man who will say anything to wed Catherine, working more on his amiable smile than a career at whatever. He has charmed Catherine’s aunt Lavinia (a scene stealing Judith Ivey who at times seems to be in a play by Oscar Wilde) but not her stern father Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn who at times appears to be Sam Waterston) who sees right through this shallow chap and his elegant, expensive gloves.
Dee Nelson as Mrs. Montgomery (the sister of Morris) turns is a very believable and strong performance.
Director Moises Kaufman has tried to enliven things by focusing on the odd humor of the piece and encouraging Ms. Ivey to flutter and giggle her way through the evening.
The real star of the show is Derek McLane who has designed a sumptuous set that is enhanced by the costumes of Albert Wolsky and the lighting design by David Lander.
It’s just a shame that this particular Heiress doesn’t deserve to live there.
Limited engagement. Through Feb 10th only at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
www.TheHeiressOnBroadway.com Photos: Joan Marcus
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