With the popularity of period-dramas these days (Downton Abbey on PBS, the Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Roundabout Theatre and just about anything on the BBC), it’s no wonder that the riveting drama The Heiress, at the Walter Kerr Theatre is garnering rave reviews.
The Heiress was originally a play in 1947, and then became a movie in 1949 featuring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift, who were the premier stars of that time. The play, set in the year 1850 in Washington Square, New York covers the gamut of romance, deception, and the unspoken promise of redemption, albeit with a twist.
Fresh off mega-hit Downton Abbey is Dan Stevens. This is Dan’s Broadway debut, and in The Heiress he plays Morris Townsend, a charming (and fawning) suitor who may or may not be the answer to socially awkward, Catherine Sloper’s prayers.
Jessica Chastain was not performing in the lead role of Catherine Sloper, the aforementioned drab daughter of a rich doctor, the evening I saw the show, but no matter, understudy, Mairin Lee’s performance was real, raw and rip-your-heart-out tear-wrenching. Although from time to time I strained to hear some of the words from my seat in the back, particularly from TV-trained actor, Dan Stevens (note to theater: better mikes, or drop them from the ceiling, as other shows have done), I felt every one of the actors strived to embody their parts perfectly, whether it was the too-flirtatious-for-her-age aunt , Lavinia played with impish charm by Judith Ivey, or David Strathairn as Dr. Austin Sloper, father of Catherine, who believes the only reason Morris is courting Catherine is so he can gain her inheritance. Straithairn plays the part with subtlety and nuance and just the right amount of emotional detachment and rueful disdain for his daughter.
The costumes are beautiful, the set works both to evoke the period of Victorian times and to move the story forward (you can’t help notice how sturdy and forbidding the door, and drawn curtains are, and the staircase is a character all its own). Best line in the play uttered by Catherine, in response to a comment on her cruelty, “I have been taught by masters.”
Grab a seat before it leaves the theater. This is a strictly limited run through February 10, 2013 at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 W. 48th St. NYC).
For more information and to buy tickets go to The Heiress.
Disclosure: I received two tickets to review this show, but the opinions and comments are my own.
Have you seen the show, and what/who appealed to you the most and why?