Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Susan Gallin, Mary Lu Roffe
Elizabeth Moss, Jason Biggs, Bryce Pinkham
The Heidi Chronicles
(The Heidi Chronicles Website)
By Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Pam Mackinnon
The Music Box
239 West 45th Street
A Shubert Organization Theatre
Ali Ahn, Leighton Bryan, Elise Kibler,
Andy Truschinski, Tracee Chimo
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jessica Pabst
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design: Jill BC Du Boff
Projection Design: Peter Nigrini
Hair & Makeup Design: Leah J. Loukas
Technical Supervisor: Hudson Theatricals
Production Stage Manager: Charles M. Turner III
Casting: Daniel Swee, CSA
Assoc. Producer: Kathy Henderson/Steven Strauss
Marketing/Press Representative: Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff
Christopher Pineda/Thomas Raynor
General Management: Bespoke Theatricals
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 2, 2015
This was my first experience with the late Wendy Wasserstein’s 1989, The Heidi Chronicles, with its flashback scenes from 1965-1989. I found it engaging and original, in scope. The thought-provoking scenes that exude Heidi’s sense of alienation and adaptation were quite riveting, thanks to Pam Mackinnon’s sensitive rendering of romantic and platonic relationships, feminine bonding, gender identity, and behavioral maturation. As Heidi, Elizabeth Moss is subdued and introspective, intellectual and perceptive, sometimes impulsive and sometimes cautious, but in possession of traditional values of loyalty and trustworthiness. Ms. Moss, at the opening of Act’s I and II, stands in a lecture hall in New York, drawing insight into paintings by known and lesser known, historical female artists, like Mary Cassatt and Frida Kahlo. The thread of lobbying for exhibits by women artists appears again later in the play.
In Chicago, 1965, the shy, studious Heidi meets Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham), while perusing the parade of “guys” with her friend Susan Johnston (Ali Ahn), who’s not afraid to vivaciously flirt. In a knowing comment, Peter tells Heidi that they’ll be “friends” forever, alluding to an ingénue relationship. In the next scene, in Manchester, NH, 1968, Scoop Rosenbaum (Jason Biggs) literally scoops up Heidi at a Eugene McCarthy political party, and from these early roots, the paths of Heidi and Susan, Heidi and Scoop, and Heidi and Peter cross in scenes spanning two decades. Secondary cast includes Tracee Chimo, Leighton Bryan, Elise Kibler, and Andy Truschinski as three to four characters each, filling out ensuing scenes. Without disclosing plot surprises, for those who’ve yet to see this exceptional work, Tracee Chimo plays Fran, in a feminist meeting, with the club’s own rules and chants, along with the other female actors. Ms. Ahn (like Mr. Pinkham and Mr. Biggs) always remains in original character.
Each character morphs in unique personality traits, over the decades. Some trade the “anti-establishment” goals of 1968 for affluent, urban-suburban career and lifestyle competition. Others remain their stalwart altruistic selves, adapting to an alienated, intellectual existence. The full ensemble of characters are seen, by late 1980’s, in a state of limbo, between fulfillment and yearning. Ms. Mackinnon has directed for pathos, humor, and self-reflection. This is a period play, and there’s no shortage of Baby Boomers in New York. Ms. Moss, almost always on stage, shifts in posture, tone, gestural nuance, and, of course, costume. Unfortunately Jessica Pabst’s costumes for Heidi do not include the Playbill cover’s red dress. They’re mostly colorless and shapeless. The art historian, lecturer persona is overdone in the appearance of feminist drabness, seemingly a metaphorical calculation. Only Scoop and his late-scene entourage, as well as Susan Johnston, receive some gloss. The decorative results of Leah J. Loukas, who designed hair and makeup, would be the same.
Peter Nigrini’s projections, as the years passed from 60’s to 80’s, were stunning. I wish they’d been more strongly magnified. This play needed more energy, and larger, propulsive projections might add visual pulse to a future production. John Lee Beatty’s scenic design lacked the same visual pulse as did the projections. Some scenes seemed furnished through Salvation Army. Yet, the lasting dramatic impression was positive and poignant.
Tracee Chimo, Jason Biggs,
Elisabeth Moss, and Bryce Pinkham
in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus