Here you will find some information on Jessica’s work on stage.
Jessica began acting in plays around the bay area of California while still in high school. Some of her earlier plays include:
• Auntie Mame (as Auntie Mame)
• A Christmas Carol
• Fiddler on the Roof
• Much Ado About Nothing
• Once Upon a Mattress
• Our Town
• A Piece of My Heart
• Romeo and Juliet
• You Can’t Take it With You
In Much Ado About Nothing, Jessica, as Hero, is said to have had a nice quality of innocence. One of the more rewarding scenes was when Hero is viciously and falsely accused of being a slut. However, the play for which she seems to have drawn the most attention was Romeo and Juliet.
The artistic director of Romeo and Juliet still remembers Jessica in the role of Juliet years later. He said, “She was beautiful, high-energy, charismatic, and she had a real joy about her. She was very good with the language. She was great for Juliet. The audience just completely fell in love with her; I guess everybody did. That was the effect she had on people. There was an exciting chemistry between her and the guy who played Romeo; it was unmistakable. Given her success in film and all that, I think the chemistry is something she brings with her anywhere she goes.”
A reviewer gives a very nice description of the play, including, “Fourteen-year-old Juliet (Jessica Chastain) appears at the rollicking party given by her father (Robert Parnell), very much the beneficent host, unaware that Romeo and his friends have crashed the party. Amusingly, the only disguise they wear are dark glasses. True to the original script, Romeo and Juliet have only to cross glances once at the party before falling hopelessly in love. Chastain’s Juliet acts touchingly adolescent with her sighs, emotional mood changes, sunny smile and overwhelming despair when she learns that her soon-to-be husband is a forbidden Montague.”
She auditioned once again while in Juilliard with a torrid scene from Juliet; she played Juliet while at Juilliard; and she played Juliet again for the Chautauqua Theater Company.
(2004) Where do we live?
Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre – Jessica was announced on the cast for this project but on the third day of rehearsal she was called back to LA to shoot the pilot for Dark Shadows, being unable to appear on this play.
(2004) The Cherry Orchard
August 2004, Williamstown, MA – She played Anya in the two-act play by Anton Chekhov, with Michelle Williams, Linda Emond, Ritchie Coster, & Chris Messina. Directed by Michael Greif. Metroland stated, “Jessica Chastain brings a radiance to Anya that carries its own sting of sorrow when one realizes that she will waste away in the sterile arms of Petya, who doesn’t believe in love.”
Variety comments, ‘A country estate is on the auction block and a new order is around the corner in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”…The gifted Linda Emond is grand and irrepressible as the self-involved Ranevskaya…It’s not entirely clear how Jessica Chastain, as Ranevskaya’s daughter, is won over by the heartfelt politics of the student played with gusto but few underpinnings by Chris Messina…Michelle Williams gives a nuanced perf as Emond’s daughter Varya; she’s especially heartbreaking in the scene in which she anticipates a proposal and gets a goodbye.‘
(2004) Rodney’s Wife
December 2004, Playwrights Horizons, New York. She played Lee, Rodney’s daughter. Rodney is faced with a life changing family secret – familial sexual impropriety – that challenges the roles his family members have played for years. It was in announcements regarding this play that Chastain Central became aware of Jessica’s work. David Strathairn, who plays Jessica’s father, also plays Jessica’s father in The Heiress.
A NY Times review reports, ‘Seemingly light conversation scrapes the skins of the characters in this sharply etched study of dislocation, loneliness and sexual betrayal, directed by Mr. Nelson and starring David Strathairn as a fading American movie star working in Rome. And you are always aware of the strain and the snappishness that arise when people politely avoid saying what is on everyone’s mind. Long before the unspoken is brought out for airing, Mr. Nelson and his fine cast have created a full emotional geography of a family, with deserts and bogs and patches of quicksand.
‘The members of this domestic army include Rodney’s recently widowed sister, Eva (Maryann Plunkett); his 25-year-old daughter (and Fay’s stepdaughter), Lee (Jessica Chastain); and his manager, Henry (John Rothman). When the play opens, they are joined for dinner by Ted (Jesse Pennington), a young American in Rome who, it is revealed, has just become engaged to Lee. Though the occasion should be festive, there is something too hearty in Rodney’s and Eva’s congratulations. Lee is strangely pale and pinched for a bride-to-be. (Ms. Chastain somehow seems to keep losing color as the evening progresses.)‘
(2006) Madame Bovary
February 2006, Signature Theatre Company – Jessica was part of the cast in this reading, which was scheduled for two reading performances. It was directed by Estelle Parsons, who also directed Al Pacino and Jessica in Salome. The audience was by invitation only. Parsons said in an interview, “I know this Jessica Chastain, who’s going to do Madame Bovary. She’s so brilliant…I’m just in awe of her talent…This girl is so much more gifted than I am, it’s not to be believed. She’s incredible. So she’s going to do my Madame Bovary at the Signature Theater.”
April 2006, Wadsworth Theatre, Los Angeles – In a significant boost to her career, Jessica played the lead role of Salome opposite Al Pacino as King Herod Antipas in Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in which Salome becomes obsessed with desire for John the Baptist, who rejects her advances. The set is not elaborate and there is little scenery. Sometimes, the actors use stands to hold their scripts.
Venice magazine (May, 2006) described her as sizzling and devoted a two-page spread to her. Pacino had heard about Jessica through his former costar and former girlfriend, Marthe Keller. Jessica later told an interviewer, “The first nudity I did was Salome, on stage for 1400 people…That was tough because it was through The Actors Studio and they wanted the dance to be improvisational, so it was different every night.”
Pacino planned to release a documentary of this play called Salomaybe. He eventually completed it under the name Wilde Salome and it premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2011. The documentary, and the play, was released in 2014.
Director Estelle Parsons invited Jessica to perform in an invitation only reading of Madame Bovary after working with her in Salome. Her work in Salome led to her being cast in Jolene by Dan Ireland. The Heiress producer, Paula Wagner, said, ‘I was immediately struck by Jessica’s talent and skill when I saw her on stage opposite Al Pacino in Salome.‘
September 12, 2009, New York University Skirball Center – Othello premiered in June 2009 at the Viennese Festwochen in Austria at the Akzent Theatre. It also played in Germany before opening in New York. Jessica plays Desdemona, Othello’s wife, in this four-hour event. Curtain Up says, ‘How nice not to have a typically demure or delicate looking Desdemona. Strawberry blonde Jessica Chastain is, nevertheless, quite beguiling as the Senator’s daughter’s and Othello’s compliant wife.‘ John Ortiz is Othello and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman is Iago.
Othello received several negative reviews and had a very negative impact on Jessica. She reported to Playbill some years later, ‘It was a very draining experience. When I got back to L.A., I received an e-mail from a director who wanted me to consider another play in New York. I replied, “Thank you, but I will never do theatre again.” I wanted to focus my energy elsewhere.‘
(2012) The Heiress
October 2012, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York – On January 5, 2012, Jessica was announced to be the lead character in the Broadway revival of The Heiress, directed by Moises Kaufman, to play in the fall of 2012. Though she is no stranger to the stage, this was Jessica’s Broadway debut. She play the role of Catherine Sloper. David Strathairn was announced on March 15 to play her father, Dr. Sloper. Dan Stevens was announced May 14 to play the role of Morris Townsend, her suitor, and Judith Ivey was announced June 9 to play Aunt Penniman.
Some have reported Jessica’s Broadway role in The Heiress as a re-visiting of her theatrical roots after achieving success in film, but Jessica told the New York Observer, ‘I received the offer for The Heiress, actually, at the premiere of The Debt, almost a year and a half ago, and that was before all the other movies came out. It was before all the wonderful things-The Help and The Tree of Life-came my way during award season.‘
The play ran from November 1, 2012 to February 10, 2013. Previews began in October 07, 2012. We did a massive coverage which you can follow here.