Theater Review: 'The Heiress' -- 3 stars
"The Heiress," a 1947 costume drama by Ruth and August Goetz based on the 1880 Henry James novel "Washington Square," has been revived on Broadway with the same regularity as other far more important classics of American drama.
Even Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," which is currently receiving its fourth Broadway production, lags behind "The Heiress," which just opened on Broadway for the fifth time.
While "The Heiress" might fall short of being great dramatic literature, it does make for an entertaining star vehicle filled with elaborate turn-of-the-century costumes, references to high society and plenty of bold dramatic gestures.
Catherine Sloper (Jessica Chastain), the dull and unattractive daughter of Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn), is courted by the penniless suitor Morris Townsend (Dan Stevens), which leads Dr. Sloper to believe that Townsend is only interested in his daughter's money.
Catherine eventually learns the truth of Morris' motivation and her father's contempt for her, which causes her to grow hard as nails. In the famous final scene, Catherine orders the town house door be bolted shut while Morris, who expected Catherine to come out and marry him, knocks frantically from the outside.
To suit her role, Chastain, who received an Oscar nomination for "The Help," is made to look awkward. But what really distinguishes her performance, which marks her Broadway debut, is how she convincingly evolves from an insecure, loving young girl into a steely, bitter woman.
Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley on the English television series "Downton Abbey," also makes a fine New York stage debut, hiding his character's unsavory motives behind a sunny, guileless facade.
Strathairn maintains a dour disposition to the role of the doctor, while Judith Ivey brings a sweet and lively presence as Catherine's warm aunt Lavinia.
If you go: "The Heiress" plays at the Walter Kerr Theater through Feb. 10.
219 W. 48th St., 212-239-6200, theheiressonbroadway.com.