Nothing like actors getting garlanded with nominations and awards to goose the Broadway box office. Jessica Chastain, who is currently starring in “The Heiress,” is a case in point. Last week, the revival of the 1947 stage classic earned close to $600,000, a hefty sum for a drama, especially in the midst of the winter doldrums. Her Golden Globe win for “Zero Dark Thirty,” on top of Oscar and Screen Actors Guild nominations for her role in the political thriller, no doubt pushed up the total. And the radiant beauty is riding the top of the film box-office charts as well in the starring role of the recently released horror film “Mama,” in which she is practically unrecognizable under a black wig. As “The Heiress” ends its limited engagement on February 9, you can expect the premium tickets to bump up those grosses even more. The originally scheduled final performance on February 10 was cancelled in order to allow Chastain to attend the BAFTAs (the British equivalent of the Oscars) in London, at which she is up for a Best Actress award for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that her co-star in “The Heiress” is Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew in the highly-lauded “Downton Abbey,” which has recently begun its new season on PBS.
The critics were divided on Chastain’s Broadway debut as the hapless Catherine Sloper, bullied by her father and victimized by a fortune hunter. But she has signaled a welcome commitment to the theater even as her movie career is catapulting her to the first ranks. Her roots, after all, are embedded on the stage. In 2006, Al Pacino tapped Chastain, then fresh out of Juilliard, to star opposite his King Herod in the title role of a Los Angeles production of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome.” The production reaped some scornful reviews in LA — as it had on Broadway, both in 1992 and 2003 with Pacino leading different casts. (The latter New York production, directed by Estelle Parsons, starred Marisa Tomei as Salome.) But the veteran actor’s obsession with the strange 1891 drama was captured in a documentary, “Wilde Salome,” which was unveiled at the Venice Film Festival in 2011. When — and if — it ever has a theatrical release or is shown on television, we will have the unique pleasure of seeing a 25-year-old Chastain perform a Dance of the Seven Veils for the godfather of her theatrical career.
Image: Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens in “The Heiress”/ © 2012 Joan Marcus