Review by Kathleen Campion
An audience rich in baby-boomers can enjoy the trip down memory lane. The Heidi Chronicles works on at least two levels. The awkwardness of adolescent pairings, then the loss of innocence, and some version of mid-life crisis—anyone can empathize with those. But capturing the particular generation—children of the 1950s, teens in the 1960s, careerists or idealists of the 70s and 80s (as the political firmament shifted)—is where Wasserstein’s magic lies.
We meet Heidi as she lectures on art history, and, more specifically, on the patriarchal version of that history. Paintings by accomplished women artists flash on the screen behind her as she notes their sophistication, their painterly skill, their uniquely feminine subtleties and, finally, more pointedly, the absolute absence of any of there names in recorded history. With this last, we understand Heidi’s expectation. A new generation will change the world. This feminist-turned-humanist looks for everyone to be fulfilled and accomplished.
Back in the 1980s, when Wasserstein first posed the questions about whether women could have it all—and, if not, why not?— there was a hopeful sense of yes-we-could, though it would take time. That more than a quarter century has passed with the questions still the same has a deflating effect that changes how we hear the questions now.
This is essentially a three-person play: a triangle. Elisabeth Moss is Heidi Holland. As a girl she meets Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham) at a dance. They are soul mates, perfect for each other, but, as he is gay, not entirely perfect. In college Heidi meets Scoop Rosenbaum(Jason Biggs) at a Gene McCarthy event and falls for his confident swagger. Ultimately, he opts for a less challenging partner.
Moss always brings a lively intelligence to her performances, on big and little screens and here, on stage. She does a powerful monologue, addressing her now-adult classmates about where women might be headed. She recounts her aha moment in a locker room with other women. She finds she is adrift at a time in her life when she’d expected to be embraced. To be sure, there are other moments when she connects, but, through much of the evening, Moss seems too much the observer, too much in reserve, too little naked.
Jason Biggs’ Scoop is convincingly pragmatic and ambitious. Regrettably, he sometimes seems removed from the exchanges he’s mouthing. Biggs doesn’t give us any reason to believe Heidi would want him, apart from their heady, youthful coupling. You never feel they are connected.
Bryce Pinkham (Peter Patrone) steals the show. Pinkham uses all the arrows in the quiver, so to speak. He is a vulnerable teen and a shaky almost-out-of-the-closet young guy, and later he is a physician nearly broken by the AIDS crisis. He often seems unable to contain himself. His are the outrageous, surprising moments.
There are some very shiny smaller performances as well. Tracee Chimo gives us two of the funniest. She plays Fran, an intimidating lesbian with a reductionist sensibility: “You either shave your legs or you don’t!” Later, she plays April, an airhead local TV host, as a stunning caricature.
Ali Ahn is Heidi’s pal Susan, from high school. Susan is all commitment and little subtlety, she is Heidi’s foil. As Heidi struggles, Susan is ‘all-in,’ first, as a feminist shepherdess, and, later as a Hollywood exec.
Andy Truschinski has a busy night. He plays all the other men with under-five parts.
Nits to pick: Director Pam Mackinnon may have thought it updating, but there were some distracting, wrong-era moments. Slinging a backpack on Peter Patrone was curious—we didn’t use them. And having the women high-five each other? Same thing. We didn’t do that either.
At two hours and thirty-five minutes, the production felt overly long.
Over scale visual projections that evoke an era have become commonplace. For this production, stretched on the canvass of the baby boomers’ decades, the device is especially well executed and appropriate.
The Heidi Chronicles was fresh and ambitious in 1989, an audacious play set on capturing the noisy struggle toward maturity of a particularly obstreperous generation. Perhaps inevitably, the revival suffers by comparison.
The Heidi Chronicles By Wendy Wasserstein; directed by Pam MacKinnon;
WITH: Elisabeth Moss (Heidi Holland), Jason Biggs (Scoop Rosenbaum), Bryce Pinkham (Peter Patrone), Ali Ahn (Susan Johnston), Leighton Bryan (Jill/Debbie/Lisa/Hostess), Elise Kibler (Becky/Clara/Denise), Andy Truschinski (Chris Boxer/Mark/Waiter/Ray) and Tracee Chimo (Fran/Molly/Betsy/April).
Sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by Jessica Pabst; lighting by Japhy Weideman; sound by Jill B C Du Boff; projections by Peter Nigrini; hair and makeup design by Leah J. Loukas; technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates; production stage manager, Charles M. Turner III; associate producers, Kathy Henderson and Steven Strauss; general manager, Bespoke Theatricals. Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Susan Gallin, Mary Lu Roffe, Eagle Productions, Stacy Jacobs, LTPS Productions, Gabrielle Palitz, Sally Horchow, Rebecca Gold, Ken Greiner, Grimaldi & WSProductions, Jamie deRoy & friends, Amy Kaissar, Suzanne Friedman, Ed Goldstone, Jessica Genick and Will Trice. At the Music Box Theater, 239 West 45th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes.