New York City Theater
Walter Kerr Theater
Somehow they did it. They managed to bleed most of the passion out of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s ”The Heiress,” an adaptation of Henry James’s “Washington Square.” This curiously flat revival of what was a woeful, sturdy tale of an ugly duckling daughter denied love by an unyielding father, should be – and has been – an emotionally rewarding experience.
But, under Moisés Kaufman’s stilted direction, everyone plays it safe, as if overwhelmed by the haute monde milieu of New York’s Washington Square or simply embarrassed by the play itself. When Dr. Sloper threatens to disinherit Catherine if she marries the handsome fortune-hunter, Morris, fires that should flame instead are banked.
It’s all so polite, despite the presence of superb actors, who have done excellent work elsewhere. Misguided, Jessica Chastain and David Strathairn plod through the evening as if waiting for resuscitation. The lack of urgency even affects Judith Ivey. Better is Dan Stevens (of “Downton Abbey” fame”) who gives the production a dose of intensity. Best of all is Dee Nelson in the one scene that exudes vitality.
Revivals are tricky, needing to be judged afresh, not as copies of the original. Even without comparing to earlier, and better productions, even on its own feet, this “Heiress” fizzles and sinks.
--David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 15, 2012