|Chastain as Catherine Sloper|
Last night I saw the Broadway revival of The Heiress starring Jessica Chastain. In it she plays Catherine Sloper a spinterish dweller of Washington Square in New York in the 1850s. The play tells the story of her courtship by a handsome drifter and her father's opposition to said courtship. The parable is about whether Catherine is being courted for love or for her inheritance.
I was very excited to see The Heiress, mostly because it stars "'actor of the moment'' Chastain. I chose it as the one play to see this season. The 1948 film with Olivia De Havilland and Monty Clift is a devastating piece that shook me with its portrayal of familial cruelty.I was expecting another emotional roller-coaster. I guess with a setup like that I was bound to be disappointed.
But boy what a disappointment. Chastain was flat and unengaging when she needed to soar.First off she was miscast as the dowdy plain Catherine Sloper - her beauty could not be hidden behind the brown wig and 19th century costumes. She overcompensated by playing the awkward Sloper as too goofy, even getting close to physical comedy in the first act. Her voice did not project at all and came off timid and hesitant even at the end when the character is supposed to have grown and found strength. It's a pity because Catherine is a great part that if played well gives the audience a huge wallop of emotion. I kept imagining what Cate Blanchett could have done with it.
|Strathairn and Ivey on opening night|
The rest of the cast acquitted themselves well. David Strathairn started slow but found his groove quickly as Catherine's emotionally abusive father. Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey, was serviceable. His American accent was good but I guess he concentrated too much on getting it right sometimes he forgot he had a part to play. The MVP was without a doubt Judith Ivey as Catherine's eccentric and romantic aunt who tries to bring the lovers together. She was everything Chastain wasn't - lively, present, funny, drawing and holding the audience's attention. If there was a star on that stage it was Ivey.
Finally Virginia Kull, an actress I have never heard of before, had a tiny part as the Slopers' maid. And boy did she make the best of it. Every little moment she had she made sure we were very aware of her. Her ambition to be noticed came through loud and clear. I loved her.I joked with my friends afterwards that if she was Chastain's understudy I bet she go ''all about Eve'" one night and make sure she gets to play the lead!