The Heidi Chronicles
The new and energetic Broadway revival of The Heidi Chronicles, Wendy Wasserstein’s acclaimed and influential 1989 play, skips through twenty-four years in the lives of a group of baby boomers as they strive for civil justice and personal happiness. Thankfully, the decision to resurrect this show pays dividends beyond the pleasures of nostalgia, as the subject matter proves vitally relevant to current discussions on feminism, gay rights, and individual success.
And, what might be more welcome news is that the script’s comedy holds up; Wasserstein’s skill at generating laughs from tension and character, as well as the sparkling cast’s sense of humor, keep the meatier subject matter from becoming too ponderous or cerebral.
The casting of Elisabeth Moss as the show’s titular Heidi Holland is inspired, given the actress’ well-regarded contributions to television dramas (namely West Wing and Mad Men) that, like Wasserstein’s script, feature smart characters who generate densely witty dialogue and plots that interweave the personal and political.
The story tracks the early adult years of Heidi and her friends over the course of almost two and a half decades, from 1965 to 1989. Heidi will eventually become a successful art historian, as we witness in the show’s prologue, giving lectures about under-appreciated and overlooked female painters. But, the chronicled journey leading up to her eventual chosen lifestyle, a journey that runs parallel with the feminist activism in which she participates, is bumpy, troubled, and full of uncertainty.
One of the recurring bumps is provided by Heidi’s contentious romance with the arrogant and charismatic Scoop Rosenbaum, played by Jason Biggs (who most convincingly inhabits the character during Scoop’s younger years). Though drawn together intellectually and chemically, what most works against the possibility of a long-lasting relationship is Scoop’s (and society’s?) inability see how he can “have it all” while being with a female partner who desires the same.
The other significant male in Heidi’s life is her dear friend Peter Patrone, realized in a hilarious and heart-squeezing performance by Bryan Pinkham (who many know as the star of the Tony-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). It is through Peter’s own personal struggles that Wasserstein touches on the point of view of the gay community, which finds itself in the midst of the devastating AIDS epidemic in the latter half of the play, looking at the social progress made by women like his Heidi and asking “What about us?”
But the most fascinating relationships in the play might be between Heidi and her friends, including her BFF, Susan Johnston (Ali Ahn in a multi-faceted, convincing performance). While these companions begin united by a common sense of injustice, their divergent personal and professional paths highlight the lack of easy answers in the struggle to define, let alone achieve, success and lasting happiness.
It’s a struggle that will resonate with all audience members - man, woman, gay, straight, baby boomer, or millennial.
The Heidi Chronicles is scheduled for a run at the Music Box Theatre in New York City through August 9th, 2015.