The Heiress

It was the matinee from hell: a sea of gray in the orchestra, and two balconies roiling with teenagers who wondered, no doubt, what they were doing at a play about Washington Square society in the 1800s. The show was the revival of “The Heiress” at the Cort, about a motherless girl shortchanged of love by her father and deceived by a fortune-hunting suitor, and about the revenge she exacts in the final scenes.

In the title role, Cherry Jones is giving the kind of performance that makes you wonder just how an actor turns quiet energy into a source of light radiating from the stage, for it is a radiant portrayal. By the time Jones reached her moment of triumph, the stilled audience had begun hooting its approval. The theater was electric with pleasure.

“We call those audiences the quick and the dead,” she said the next day. “The older people are all weepy about poor Catherine who doesn’t get enough love. The kids really get into it when she turns around and has her revenge.”

The real heiress, of course, is Jones herself: With this amazing performance – a combination of technique and intangibles very rarely seen – she joins Broadway royalty. Those kids weren’t mesmerized; on the contrary, they appeared to have been completely drawn into that foreign world, and it was thrilling.

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