“I think that I’ve always been a great lover of Henry James,” director Moisés Kaufman told The Huffington Post in a recent interview. "He had such keen insight into human psychology."
That insight will get a Broadway airing when Kaufman brings his production of "The Heiress," based on the 1880 Henry James novel “Washington Square,” to the Walter Kerr Theater in New York on November 1.
In his best-known play, "The Laramie Project," Kaufman brought to life the small Wyoming town that made headlines in 1998 when an openly gay resident named Matthew Shepard was murdered. In 2011, Kaufman turned his attention to fictional tragedy, helming a production based on Tennessee Williams' short story "One Arm." Now, the playwright and director is combining his eye for re-interpretation and historical accuracy -- with a Henry James adaptation set in 1850s New York.
"The Heiress" tells the story of Catherine Sloper, the timid daughter of a prominent, but callous, doctor. When Catherine is approached by a dashing young suitor, we see her start to yearn for the love of a different, distant man, and we know it can't end well. Jessica Chastain ("The Help," "The Debt") stars as Ms. Sloper, while seasoned actor David Strathairn ("The Bourne Legacy," "Lincoln") takes on the role of her emotionally unavailable father, Dr. Austin Sloper. Dan Stevens, now famous for playing Matthew on "Downton Abbey," plays the suitor Morris Townsend. The production also features Judith Ivey ("White Collar," "Nurse Jackie") as Mrs. Penniman, Catherine’s widowed aunt.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Chastain called the adaptation "very modern," saying her character "believes she is what her father says she is" until finally "she is what she feels she is. She becomes her own woman."
“I think that there is something about a woman trying to find and define herself in a culture and in a family that doesn’t have any room for her that continues to strike a chord," echoed Kaufman.
The director elaborated on the modern appeal of the story, saying, “If you’re a minority, this is a very common experience. You are born into societies that don’t exactly make room for you. I think that the possibility and the desire to define yourself in a way that allows you to survive and to thrive in a world that is inhospitable is a struggle that we all face.”
Despite the long odds facing actors today, the members of this cast have been able to survive and even thrive in a variety of media, from television to film. But make no mistake: they're all itching to get on the Broadway stage. "It’s very nice after a few crazy years of television to come and do something like this," says Stevens. "It's great fun."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Matthew Shepard as a teenager. Shepard was 21 when he died.