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Review Roundup: THE HEIRESS Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

The new Broadway production of the Tony Award winning play The Heiress began previews on October 6th and will open tonight, November 1st at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 West 48th St.). The show will play a limited run through February 10, 2013.

The Heiress stars Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain, Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner David Strathairn, the leading man of "Downton Abbey" Dan Stevens, and Tony Award winner Judith Ivey. Written by Ruth & Augustus Goetz, The Heiress is directed by Tony Award nominated playwright and director Moisés Kaufman.

The design team includes Tony Award winner Derek McLane (sets), Academy Award winner Albert Wolsky (costumes), Tony Award nominee David Lander (lighting), Peter Golub (original music) and Tony Award nominee Leon Rothenberg (sound).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Wearing a mousy brown wig and hunching her shoulders, Ms. Chastain improbably manages to simulate homeliness. And her face registers feelings sharply and legibly. But, curiously for an expert film actress, she is guilty here of oversignaling the thoughts within. She plays Catherine’s spinsterish awkwardness for broad comedy in the early scenes. And her delivery of dialogue sometimes has a flatness that I associate with cold readings of scripts. This is surely a conscious choice, but it has the effect of making Catherine seem even more, uh, mentally challenged than usual. And I never felt the urgency of filial and romantic love festering into vengeful hatred, which should inform any production of “The Heiress.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The latest revival of "The Heiress" has done the near impossible - it's drained the light from one of the most luminous actresses working today. In a good way. Jessica Chastain, that ravishing redhead with the milky skin who shot a dose of bubbly charm to the film "The Help," turns almost ghoulish in the title role…What's left is a skittish woman with hollow eyes, a simply horrible hostess who, when she speaks, does so in a dull monotone. Even her hair looks mousy. Full credit goes to Chastain, who has buried herself in dullness to play one of theater's more formidable proto-feminist roles. The men in her life - David Strathairn plays her father and Dan Stevens of "Downton Abbey" her suitor - aren't too shabby either, each turning in performances that are complex and sympathetic. Neither actor, under the superb, subtle direction of Moises Kaufman, emerges as a straw man.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The gasps of pleasure that accompanied the stage entrance of Dan Stevens in The Heiress on press night indicated a large contingent of Downton Abbey fans in the audience. And the actor is a savvy casting choice in a part that requires beguiling charm and sufficient sincerity to keep us wondering about his character’s motives. But the good news doesn’t extend to the actress in the title role of this plush Broadway revival. An underpowered Jessica Chastain, hampered by questionable directorial choices, dilutes the emotional impact of this nonetheless compelling melodrama...This is juicy, high-toned melodrama, and for the most part, stylishly executed. It’s possible that, as the run progresses, Chastain might find more secure footing, placing a bolder stamp on the central role to capture the spark that’s currently missing.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: The play itself takes care of the rest, carrying us along like the well-crafted yarn it is. They don’t write ’em like this anymore.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Director Moisés Kaufman's crisp, first-rate production finds an admirable complexity in Ruth and Augustus Goetz' 1947 drama, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square. In her Broadway debut, Chastain conveys social discomfort and awkwardness without veering into caricature. In the second act, as her mouse of a character gradually learns to roar, the uniquely American arc of this tragedy comes into sharper focus.

Robert Feldberg, Its latest revival, which opened Thursday night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is a showcase, of sorts, for two popular and very capable young actors, Hollywood's Jessica Chastain ("The Help," "Tree of Life") and TV's Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey"), each making a Broadway debut. Both give committed and persuasive, if not transcendent, performances. They're supported, and occasionally overshadowed, by two canny veteran stage performers, David Strathairn and Judith Ivey.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: In the end, it's up to the leading lady to ensure that we care about Catherine, rather than seeing her as a distressed damsel in a quaint melodrama. And Chastain gives her a forbearance and dignity that blossoms even after her frail glow seems in danger of being extinguished. It's a nuanced, compassionate performance that bodes well for the actress' future, on stage and off.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: If you can overlook the absurdity of casting the ravishing Jessica Chastain as the plain and clumsy heroine of "The Heiress," Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 stage adaptation of "Washington Square," then Moises Kaufman's masterfully helmed production is everything you want from a Class A revival. As is proper for a costume drama, the costumes are mouthwatering. The set is just as scrumptious, and the cast seems entirely comfortable speaking the language and thinking the thoughts of people from a bygone era -- David Strathairn so much so, you'd swear he goes up the staircase to bed each night after the show.

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: "The Heiress" is so fine a play that it is capable of making a strong impression even in a flawed production. That's what happens here. Ms. Ivey is a knockout, and Mr. Strathairn is always worth seeing, even when, as is the case this time around, he fumbles the interpretive ball. But anyone who knows Mr. Wyler's wonderful film version, or who was lucky enough to see "The Heiress" on Broadway in 1995, will know—and regret—what is missing from this revival.

Michael Musto, The Village Voice: Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is a fine actress who seems incapable of a false move, giving a naturalistic performance, though I found some of her moments flat, needing a bit more awakened fire.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Maybe, if someone never saw the revelatory Cherry Jones in the 1995 revival of "The Heiress," well, maybe the one now starring Jessica Chastain would make the 1947 drama by Ruth and Augustus Goetz feel like a genuine demi-classic discovery.

Matt Windman, AM New York: 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…what really distinguishes [Chastain's] 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.

Tom Wicker, Daily Telegraph: The show has you in the palm of its hand with the sharp observational comedy of its opening scenes and Judith Ivey’s hilarious turn as merry aunt Lavinia. And then it clenches its fist. Bone-dry one-liners calcify into a chilling portrait of parental expectations devoid of human warmth in a society where affection is inseparable from fortune.

Scott Brown, Vulture: There's unmarriageable and then there's unmarriageable: The Catherine Sloper of Henry James's Washington Square is an 1850s heiress of "plain, dull, gentle countenance" who "devoted her pocket money to the purchase of cream cakes" and is "decidedly not clever." The Catherine Sloper of Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 play The Heiress (which is merely "suggested" by Washington Square) is a bright young thing buried under a bushel of insecurities, crippled by an awkward fashion sense and near-cataleptic social anxiety. (In William Wyler's film version, Olivia de Havilland was slapped with a pair of Mike Dukakis eyebrows to uglify her into premature spinsterhood.)

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: A mostly inspired cast and design team have been assembled for a melodrama that doesn’t fall completely within the comfort zone of this adventurous director (“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” “I Am My Own Wife”).

David Cote, Time Out NY: Director Moisés Kaufman confidently, sensitively steers his splendid cast around Derek McLane’s grand townhouse set with painterly aplomb. A tale of lost innocence and the wages of experience,The Heiress will probably make you cry. But even through tears, you cannot fail to discern its astonishing, forlorn beauty. 

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