By: Sandi Durell
When Wendy Wasserstein wrote this play, that originally premiered off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1988, transferring to Broadway a year later, it had real ground-breaking legs making a statement and empowering women unlike anything else that had been theretofore seen. As it did then, it tackles issues we thought were no longer relevant – equality between men and women, equal pay, motherhood, careers, with added gender and political issues – some of which still ring true.
Things have taken a dramatic upturn and change since 1965 (where this play begins) – women’s issues and rights are no longer characterized in the same manner – feminists are not burning their bras, attending consciousness raising groups or marching with placards.
The Heidi Chronicles is Wendy’s story as Elisabeth Moss (TV’s Mad Men Peggy Olson) takes on the character of feminist art historian doing it her way.
The women in Heidi’s Chronicles are just beginning to flex their freedom muscles as we observe them marching and meeting in Chicago, the different personalities emerging in a togetherness to further a common cause. There’s Fran (Tracee Chimo – who also plays Molly, Betsy, April) the big mouth bonafide lesbian with a lot to say, the ultimate comic relief, whose mantra is “either you shave your legs, or you don’t;” Jill (Leighton Bryan – also as Debbie, Lisa, Hostess) the youngest, most confused and searching; Susan (Ali Ahn) loves the male sex, and eventually emerges as a big time TV exec, and Becky (Elise Kibler – who also plays Clara & Denise).
Moss plays Heidi as low-key as she can, as a sad, honest observer, keeping herself separate and apart from the emotional bonds with her female counterparts. She has two men in her life who stay with her through the 80s (Vietnam and the AIDS crisis duly noted) – her gay pediatrician friend Peter Patrone (a loveable, charming and funny Bryce Pinkham), with whom she probably would have been more involved if he hadn’t announced his sexual preference, and Scoop Rosenbaum (a perfect pain-in-the-butt Jason Biggs) who starts off as a flirty anti-establishment type, but grows to love the money, power and success he achieves, marrying into a high level society circle, starting his own magazine – emerging as a typical me-me of the 80s generation. Only Heidi and Peter stay faithful to their lifelong principles.
There are lots of good pop-up witty lines to go around for the 2 hours 35 minutes which does seem a tad long.
Pam MacKinnon moves her characters around with an ease that speaks to why she is a Tony Award winning director. The past becomes present through John Lee Beatty’s set design and Peter Nigrini’s projections; Jessica Pabst’s triple-era costumes meet their mark. Andy Truschinski rounds out the cast in multiple roles.
Music Box Theater, 239 West 45 Street, 212 239-6200, open run
*Photos: Joan Marcus