The setting is creamy and grand and used in many movies, including several by Woody Allen—you almost get a sense of déjà vu. Valentine’s Day is the day to be at Barbetta, with dancing to a “four-piece band.” You know it’s got to be amazing! We’d settle just to come back one perfect night in early summer and dine in the enchanting old garden, beside the fountain and the hundred-year-old tangle of wisteria.
The old world charm of Barbetta prepared us for “The Heiress,” by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, a bittersweet love story based on the Henry James novelette Washington Square. In the role of Catherine Sloper, the heroine who over and over again will turn down a chance to be loved, is the too-beautiful Jessica Chastain of movie fame. She plays the unappreciated daughter of the stern widower, Dr. Austin Sloper, fully embodied by Broadway veteran David Strathairn. What a pleasure to watch both actors go at it in this period piece!
The play takes place in one room—the parlor of the Slopers’ Washington Square house. Henry James described this part of old Greenwich Village as having a “mild and melancholy glamour.” His childhood home was on Washington Square, where there are still a few row houses on the northeast corner. (If you want more of the setting, take a short trip to the Merchant’s House Museum—a perfectly intact nineteenth–century house that was the set designer’s inspiration.)
The real surprise of the afternoon was Dan Stevens. Who doesn’t love the dashing Matthew Crawley of “Downton Abbey”? We were expecting more of the same in his portrayal of the anxious young suitor, but he was quite different and kept us guessing. A terrific performance.