The rest of Treat Yo Self Sunday was dedicated to a matinée of “The Heiress” featuring Jessica Chastain, David Strathairn, Dan Stevens and Judith Ivey. The promo photo of the 3 main actors gives you no clue as to the subject matter of the play. Only some research of your own will reveal that it’s a play written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz based on the Henry James short novel Washington Square. Jessica Chastain is Catherine Sloper, the protected, shy daughter of Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn) who is suddenly wooed by Morris Townsend (Dan Stevens). At first I wasn’t exactly sure of the time period but the set, costumes and dialogue made me think 19th century, and yes it is, 1850s apparently. Okay so here’s the poster for the play:
So for someone like me who doesn’t have exhaustive knowledge of the theater or old movies you see this poster and don’t quite expect a period play. Yes I had a rough idea of the story but I wish they would have used something other than their head shots to advertise. I harp on this because I expected Chastain to be luminous. She was but it’s been toned down to be the plain girl her father and aunt make her out to be. And maybe it was done on purpose so her looks don’t overshadow the maturation of her character over the course of the play. As she realizes her father’s true estimation of her Catherine becomes more radiant and strong. This growth is also reflected in her dresses which seem just as constricting as the house she lives in at the beginning and by the end become loose and light as she secures her emotional freedom and certainty in herself.
There was a pivotal scene that was done in the almost dark which did a slight disservice to Chastain and Judith Ivey as I would have liked to seen their faces better but it was powerful nonetheless.
I felt happy afterwards not to be living in such a regimented society where family and social expectations had to be followed, especially by women. Women of the 19th century relied so much on men or their families for security of home and livelihood. We all experience pressure or expectations from our family and friends but nowadays it is more open and easy to strike out on your own. Although it’s not like this all over the world. To some extent some women are still treated as if it’s the 19th century or even earlier.
The idea of rejection also played a big part in Catherine’s development. As she is constantly rejected by her father and eventually rejected by love, she grows out of the shy, reluctant girl and into the steadfast woman who takes her place as head of the house. I wanted her to find an equal partner who would make her smile and become vulnerable again but I’ll just continue that play in my mind.