I had been looking forward to this fall’s Broadway revival of The Heiress even before I knew if I would be able to see it. When I found out about the production, I didn’t know I would be living in New York for graduate school, but I knew that even if I didn’t get into the New York program I wanted, I would want to go to the city to see the play. Every tidbit I heard about it (Jessica Chastain! Dan Stevens! David Strathairn!) made me even more excited about the prospect of seeing it.
As I’ve mentioned before, seeing the 1949 film of The Heiress was the catalyst for my classic film fandom. The story is very special to me, and the prospect of seeing it live (and on Broadway, no less) was something I would not want to pass up.
When the day to see The Heiress rolled around, my friend and I scored excellent seats in the orchestra from rush (I credit this to seeing the show while it was still in previews). Since we were sitting so close, I could see the expressions on the actors’ faces perfectly clearly. The Heiress is an intimate story, one that makes a telling through the medium of theatre an ideal method. Seeing it that close made it even better.
Let me just say this: Jessica Chastain is perfection in the role. Though her enunciation sounded a bit too stilted to me in the beginning, I slowly got used to it as I realized that there’s subtle brilliance in it. Catherine is never really herself; she’s constantly on her guard, especially around her father, which means that she’s always choosing her words carefully.
But Chastain’s performance is just so good on so many other levels. Her Catherine is appropriately awkward and icy at all the right times. Once Catherine’s emotional spiral begins, Chastain brings all the goods. In one of the confrontations between Catherine and her father, Chastain didn’t just look as though she were crying; she really was crying. My friend who went with me – and who’d never experienced The Heiress – was moved to tears by Catherine’s tears.
Everything else about the production was equally superb. Dan Stevens mastered an American accent and the devil-may-care attitude of Morris Townsend. David Strathairn played a much more sympathetic Dr. Sloper than I’d ever considered, which added new layers to the story for me. And Judith Ivey’s comic relief was a breath of fresh air among all the psychological mess. While everything about the show – especially the costumes and sets – was flawless, it is these four performers who make it ultimately noteworthy.
After the show ended, my friend and I hung around the stage door, hoping to meet the cast members. Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens both came; they signed autographs and posed for photos with everyone who waited. Chastain could not have been more gracious with the fans; when I was telling her how highly I thought of her performance, she made me feel as though I had her complete attention. Dan Stevens was perfectly charming amid all the enthusiastic Downton Abbey fans who had been in the audience. I wanted to be different, so I elected to tell him that he was brilliant in the production of Arcadia in which I saw him in London in 2009, which seemed to surprise him.
Armed with my photos with Chastain and Stevens and my signed playbill, I left the Walter Kerr Theatre that day all smiles. I’ll definitely be trying to make the time to see the show once more before it closes in February.