The revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize winning Heidi Chronicles, now on Broadway, has it’s moments.
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.
"Fortunately, under the direction of Pam MacKinnon and in the hands of a fine supporting cast, notably Jason Biggs and Bryce Pinkham as the men in (and largely out) of Heidi’s life, the play’s humor retains its buoyancy, even when the specific matters at hand... have acquired the distancing patina of textbook history."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Wendy Wasserstein’s 1988 play 'The Heidi Chronicles' was originally a bracing wakeup call about women’s evolving lives. The Broadway revival is far less stirring."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Pam MacKinnon’s production sands off whatever edge there was to the play — and Wasserstein wasn’t an edgy writer."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Though dated, and at more than two and a half hours, overwritten, 'The Heidi Chronicles' under Pam MacKinnon’s thoughtful direction remains an invaluable work reminding us how far we've truly come."
Roma Torre for NY1
"Elisabeth Moss is a luminous, quizzical Heidi in the stylish revival that opened Thursday night on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, with Bryce Pinkham and Jason Biggs giving depth to two important men in Heidi's life."
Jennifer Farrar for The Associated Press
"Moss plays the role largely in muted tones, showing occasional glimpses of her internal conflict when Heidi admits to needing the validation of Scoop's attentions, or to selfishly counting on Peter to remain 'desperately and hopelessly in love' with her. Her flashes of resentment are energizing, and given how often she's described as caustic, a little more of that edge wouldn't hurt the performance."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Elisabeth Moss (waving goodbye to 'Mad Men') is effortlessly endearing — and wonderfully real — as the brainy, mixed-up heroine, and the thesps playing her male friends pass muster. But, under the direction of Pam MacKinnon, Heidi’s girlfriends are an embarrassment."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...