Friday, March 20, 2015

Margin Notes: The Heidi Chronicles

Elisabeth Moss as Heidi Holland. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Heidi Chronicles

Seen on: Friday, 3/13/15.
My grade: B-. Some strong performances, but an overall underwhelming experience.

Plot and Background
The Heidi Chronicles follows Heidi Holland, an art historian, from her school days until her 40s, tracking not only her progression through various feminist movements, but also the turgid decades of the 1960s through the 1980s. The story also follows her on-again off-again romance with Scoop, a journalist slash lawyer who makes safe choices, and her lifelong friendship with Peter, a gay pediatrician who is bold without seeming to have a choice in the matter. This play was originally produced in 1988 and starred Joan Allen in the title role. There was a film adaptation in 1995 starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The Heidi Chronicles won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play in 1989. This production is the first Broadway revival of any of Wendy Wasserstein's plays.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd read the play once or twice a number of years ago, and didn't retain much beyond the basic structure.


Play: While the cast was solid enough, and the production not obviously flawed, I came away vaguely underwhelmed by this production. It might be the script, it might just be that it's gotten itself a bit dated, or it might just be one of the vaguely lackluster revivals we seem to get every season. One wants, especially in today's newly toxic climate for gender politics (perhaps the new toxicity levels are due in part to the Internet's ability to make even the obscure crackpots visible), to be galvanized by the recognition that this is still a fight we're having. But this was never a galvanizing play. Wasserstein is not Larry Kramer. It is, instead, an examination of one woman (and various satellite women of her life), saddened by her generation's disappointing show at a fight she thought they were all in together. "It's just that I feel stranded," she says in a speech to young undergrads. "And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn't feel stranded. I thought the point was we were all in this together." That's the feeling at the center of the play, that vague sense of loss and abandonment, that sadness. And all I can feel in response is a similar sadness.

Cast: Elisabeth Moss continues to grow as an actress, turning in a far more interesting showing here than in the 2008 Speed-the-Plow. She was alternately strong and fragile, confused and determined to understand. Bryce Pinkham's performance as her best friend Peter was charming and dynamic, with sparkling comedic flair, and a perfect counterbalance to her more serious mien.  Other standouts included Ali Ahn, as Heidi's old school friend Susan, who created a fully consistent and yet evolving woman, constantly declaring her intention to fix the system "from the inside"; and Tracee Chimo, in a variety of standout roles ranging from the acerbic lesbian Fran to the sleek but shallow TV host April, who continues to shine as one of New York's rising stars (okay, a bit cliched in phrasing but still true). Jason Biggs is unfortunately miscast here as Scoop, Heidi's on-again, off-again flame. He's not delivering a bad performance, by any means; I just felt that he was miscast. Scoop has to be charismatic enough that we fall in love with him a bit, and can thus sympathize with Heidi's love for him. Biggs's Scoop was such a weak little nothing, a bit too slimy, that Scoop's inadequacies were far too evident, and it made Heidi seem weaker as a character. I liked her less for liking him.

Design: John Lee Beatty's smoothly revolving turntable kept the set changes fluid, and helped perhaps contribute to the sense that these characters, and this crusade, are stuck on a loop, on a hamster wheel, with no actual achievable destination. Peter Nigrini's projections (with the exception of the paintings for Heidi's lectures) largely served as aid during transitions, to provide narrative as the story progressed forward in time. Jessica Pabst's costumes further aided in the time warp, as well as cluing us into characters' progressions over time (Susan trading in her pink shoulder-padded sweater for a Hollywood power suit, etc.)


Running: now playing at Music Box Theatre - Opening March 19, 2015. Closing: August 9, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Wendy Wasserstein
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Designers:  John Lee Beatty (Set), Jessica Pabst (Costume), Japhy Weideman (Lighting), Jill BC Du Boff (Sound), Peter Nigrini (Projections).
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Jason Biggs, Bryce Pinkham, Tracee Chimo, Ali Ahn, Leighton Bryan, Elise Kibler, Andy Truschinski, Therese Plaehn, Ben Graney, Amelia McClain.

Tracee Chimo, Jason Biggs, Elisabeth Moss, and Bryce Pinkham as
April, Scoop, Heidi, and Peter. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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