I'm sad to say that the limited run of The Heiress on Broadway had its final performance last night. I very much enjoyed the show, which was the Broadway debut for both Jessica Chastain (as the heiress, Catherine Sloper) and Dan Stevens (as the handsome Morris Townsend).
This play is a story of love and cruel reality.
Both Jessica Chastain (who found her way into all our hearts as Celia in The Help), and Dan Stevens (British television & stage actor most know for his role of Mathew Crawley in the series Downton Abby) brought The Heiress to life through their subtle and moving performances as the young leads, but none more than Miss Chastain, herself.
With her portrayal of Cathrine's transformation from wide-eye, awkward, naive girl to strong, determined, unrelenting woman, Jessica took audiences on an unexpected ride through the trials faced by coming of age, finding love, and learning the truth.
To make her believable as an unattractive woman, Jessica donned a fake nose and unbecoming wig to play the role Catherine who strives to get her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn), to approve her marriage to the young, handsome Morris Townsend. Armed by her belief in Morris' love, and untethered by her father's lifelong wish that she were more like her late mother (graceful and beautiful), Catherine stands up for what she wants for the first time in her life. Despite the nagging insecurities embedded in her psyche since her birth as her father's disappointment, she remains blissfully unaware of his belief that no man would/could love her for her charm, whit, or beauty -- but only for her inheritance.
Ultimately, it is not the disappointment of her lover's failure to show up for their secret marriage that dampens Cathrine's hopes of happiness, it is the reality of her father's views about her which kill her dreams. Forced to face a very different world than she had believed in before she knew his true feelings, Cathrine does not falter. As the reality her father outlines to her sinks in, she accepts the truth for what it is without losing herself. Finding an inner strength born out of an understanding of her own limitations, Catherine is determined not to fool herself further. No longer idealistic about the world or her future, she becomes a force to be reckoned with as she takes complete charge of her life for the first time.
The complexities of Catherine's character make it a difficult role to pull off. An actress without the right take or understanding of the intricacies of this character could easily result in Catherine coming across as a pathetic, lonely woman or a bitter, angry bitch -- unlikeable in either case. But not with Jessica Chastain. She skillfully navigated the twists and turns of Catherine's journey with grace so the audience couldn't help but fall in love with Catherine through her metamorphosis. Awed by the pure acceptance and fortitude that Jessica instilled in this character, the audience not only ended up respecting Catherine's unwavering strength to face life without any illusions, but kept routing for her until the bitter end. Bravo Jessica!
If you didn't get the chance to see Jessica on Broadway, have no fear. Both of her latest blockbuster movies, Mama and in Zero Dark Thirty (for which she won the Golden Globe and is up for the Oscar for Best Actress), are currently playing in theaters around the nation. In both, Jessica will, once again, wow you by her talent at bringing to life very different characters (with of these roles differing greatly from her Broadway role of Cathrine, and her first Oscar Nominated role of Celia in The Help). In each of her works, Jessica Chastain's acting range is impressive. She thrives on playing many different kind of women, and we are glad to have that kind of actress back on the silver screen.