‘The Heiress’ fails to ascend to royal heights

Clio McConnell

This November, “The Heiress” transports theatergoers back to the mid-19th century. Moisés Kaufman directs a cast of talented, well-known actors in this revival, which is based on Henry James’ 1880 novel, “Washington Square.”

Scrupulously staged, this production stars Jessica Chastain as the titular heiress, Catherine Sloper, and David Strathairn as her pragmatic father, Austin Sloper. Dan Stevens, of “Downton Abbey” fame, plays Chastain’s suitor, Morris Townsend.

“The Heiress” follows Morris’s pursuit of Catherine, a plain young woman who is almost cripplingly awkward among company. Catherine is a huge disappointment to her father, who is a successful and wealthy doctor. Catherine also stands to receive quite a bundle of money from her father and is starved for affection while Morris is a handsome, charismatic young man who has just spent the last of his small inheritance.

The heroine’s conflict is that she loves two men, both of whom might only be interested in money. Indeed, her father seems far more concerned with his legacy than with his daughter’s happiness, and we can never be sure whether Morris is truly in love with Catherine or her inheritance.

It is this last bit that is most troubling. In this production, Stevens’ portrayal of Morris appears entirely genuine from the first act. Instead of being a sleazy opportunist, he gallantly defends Catherine when her father criticizes her and generally shows fondn
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