Theater Review: ‘Heidi Chronicles’

April 16, 2015 Updated: September 29, 2015

NEW YORK—Playwright Wendy Wasserstein covers a lot of bases in her moving and entertaining “The Heidi Chronicles,” now being presented in its first Broadway revival since its 1989 triple win for Best Play: Pulitzer Prize, Tony, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards.

Heidi and friends, both male and female, are portrayed against the changing social and political backdrop from the ’60s through the late ’80s. With humor and poignancy mixing alternately or simultaneously, the sometimes puzzled but never daunted Heidi endeavors to sort out her beliefs and goals.

Wasserstein, representing Heidi as an art historian, cleverly educates the viewer along the way with projections (design by Peter Nigrini) and discussions of major female artists of days, sometimes centuries, long past.

Heidi (winningly played by Elisabeth Moss), and two off-again, on-again suitors, Scoop Rosenbaum (Jason Biggs) and Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham), are entwined with Heidi over the years, though not always in a positive way.

When Heidi and Scoop first meet at a dance touting Eugene McCarthy for President (“neat and clean for Eugene”), their encounter smacks more of a debate than a possible courtship. In spite of the two-way attraction, Scoop, a newspaper publisher and lawyer, is apparently threatened by a woman with intelligence in sync with his own.

Elisabeth Moss is a particularly open actress, sometimes exhibiting a rather raw emotionality, which is very appealing.
Scoop will ultimately find a permanent connection with Lisa (Leighton Bryan) who is not an A+ like Heidi, but closer to an A- or B+. That he cheats on Lisa is typical of Scoop’s Don Juan leanings.

Peter, who is serious and loyal, might have been a better bet in the romance department, but unfortunately he prefers the company of men. However, in a late scene in the play, he chides Heidi for not taking their friendship more seriously when she informs him that she’s about to take a job out of state. She, on her part, confides that she hasn’t made her life work here, while Peter has become a successful and useful pediatrician.

Feminism and women’s rights, of course, receive strong emphasis, with several scenes showing Heidi’s friends espousing their goals. Along the way they cover the “me” generation, developing at last to be parents or even joining the male establishment in order to advance their careers.

At Lisa’s baby shower, however, the other participants become protective as they try to hide the fact that Scoop is exercising his roaming tendencies with a younger woman.

The production casts a warm glow, with one’s own experiences filling in any gaps of history.

Women have made some progress over time, but haven’t reached the zenith that Heidi (as Wasserstein’s mouthpiece) might have wanted. However, Wasserstein, sadly, who died at age 55 in 2006, hasn’t been able to witness more recent developments.

The three major roles are well-played. Elisabeth Moss is a particularly open actress, sometimes exhibiting a rather raw emotionality, which is very appealing.

Bryce Pinkham demonstrates a wide range, from silliness when required, to a tender sensitivity.

Jason Biggs tends to be somewhat one-note, emphasizing the character’s brusqueness and selfishness. Some subtlety at times might have made him more appealing.

Other players, several of whom are double-, triple-, or even quadruple-cast, lend fine support and include Ali Ahn, Andy Truschinski, Tracee Chimo, Elise Kibler, and the aforementioned Leighton Bryan.

With Pam MacKinnon skillfully handling the directorial reins and with spare sets by John Lee Beatty and costumes by Jessica Pabst, “Heidi” is a welcome addition to the Broadway season.

‘The Heidi Chronicles’
 Music Box Theatre
239 W. 45th St.
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes (with intermission)
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Closes: Aug. 9

Diana Barth publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. She may be contacted at diabarth@juno.com.

 

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