By Karen Posada
Venezuelan Tony Award nominated playwright and director Moisés Kaufman brings ‘The Heiress’ back for the fourth time after 17 years to Broadway. This dramatic play takes place in 1850, in a New York City’s Washington Square house; it is charming with hints of comedy, romance and innocence. The play written by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz in 1947 was adapted from Henry James’ 1880 novel titled “Washington Square”. It transports the public to a sophisticated, rich household where we experience the relationships among a couple of individuals that are trying to cope with life, society and their roles and duties in them. The story is captivating and engrossing as it progresses and one easily connects and has sympathy for the characters and their happenings. The two hour and forty-five minute show opened on November 1st and will stick around for 18 weeks (until Feb 10, 2013).
The story rotates around Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn) and his daughter Catherine (Jessica Chastain), after her birth he was left widowed and he raised a daughter he resents and feels like she never amounts to his expectations. Fortunately for him, his sister Lavinia Penniman (Judith Ivey) a recent widow, stays with them to help his daughter be more social. The perfect opportunity presents itself when his other sister Elizabeth Almond (Caitlin O’Connell) brings her daughter Marian (Molly Camp) and her fiancé Arthur Townsend (Kieran Campion), who wisely brings along his well-traveled charming cousin Morris Townsend (Dan Stevens) for a visit. In this scenario shy Catherine must cope with love and the weight her fortune as an heiress brings.
The entire play takes place on the same setting, the lavish decorated living room of the Sloper household. The drapes around the windows let the public as well as the ladies’ beautiful dresses. Of course once we find out they have a house on Washington Square Park, an expensive location; that says it all, then enters Maria (Virginia Kull) the family’s uniformed maid. Finally, the Walter Kerr Theater itself captivates the elegance needed for this story.
Act one and two complement each other masterfully; in act one we get to meet all the characters with ease and no confusion, they sit around the living room entertaining us with their stories and commentaries on their lives, society, hopes and dreams. It is easy to perceive how Dr. Sloper feels about his daughter as he speaks freely about her and how disappointed he is that she’ll never be who he wants her to be. Catherine on the other hand shows the public her shy side when she interacts with everyone, except with her aunt Lavinia, where she’s more open and even teases her. There’s a contrast and tension on the second act that builds upon the first, changing the atmosphere and the characters themselves in an interesting way. The play explores, mashes and twists the elements of human nature, society, innocence, respect and romance magically.
Every single character contributes to the story: Strathairn playing a doctor automatically not only has a high status in society because of his job and money, but because of the importance his role has in everyone’s lives; although he’s compassionate at the same time we see how distant he’s with his daughter. With his great acting he uses humor and cruel words to expresses himself and entertain the public. Chastain outshines them all, she’s phenomenal! Her character is so profound and has so many layers that every time she leaves us wondering what she’ll say or do next, she’s makes us laugh at her awkward shyness and the audience has the chance to really grow with her. This actress who’s been in movies such as ‘The Help’, ‘Lawless’ and soon ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ has so much talent that it was a pleasure seeing her up on that stage.
Ivey is also a crucial part of the play as she’s the bridge between a daughter and father; she also connects the two lovers once their romance begins. Her charisma really gives the play an appreciated lightness, along with the homey feeling of a caring aunt one can confide in. Everything comes full circle with Stevens and his character that easily captures the audience’s attention and keeps us wondering about his intentions and true nature.
Kull’s Irish accent is a little off putting at times, as it feels very exaggerated and at the begining some of the characters sound like they have English accents with the over pronunciation. A warning that in two instances in the play there’s some cigar smoke that actually reaches the audience from the stage, although there’s a vent it’s a bold action to take in an enclosed space.
My favorite thing about the play is the way it transforms itself with the story in such a smooth and fluid form. I was fully entertained for all of its duration and really enjoyed it in its entirety. It’s very easy to sympathize with the characters, especially with Chastain, as she slowly gets to the audience with her strong performance especially towards the end. She represents the challenges of being a woman that was born with a status she’s expected to earn. This is a coming of age story that surely entertains and some people will be a bit shocked by the honest feelings and actions taken by the characters.
‘The Heiress’ is playing at the Walter Kerr Theater for more info go to: