The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein; directed by Maria Mileaf
A serious, good person who seems to watch closely....
Kate Jennings Grant as Heidi; photo: Kevin Sprague
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
When Wendy Wasserstein's play, The Heidi Chronicles, was first produced in 1988 and moved quickly from Playwrights Horizons to Broadway in March of 1989 it set up a ripple connecting it to the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA. This women's play, by a woman and about a woman, went on to win the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. A young Sarah Jessica Parker, playing three roles off-Broadway, left the company and was replaced by an equally young Cynthia Nixon who played the parts on the main stem. Nixon had, just a few years earlier, begun to make a name for herself in a new play, A Safe Place, by a woman about women in a year of women in every role of management and direction at the BTF. It was a natural progression in her career to commit to roles in women's work, which has also brought her significant recognition on Broadway in Claire Boothe Luce's play, The Women, and on television in Sex and the City.
Now another woman at the BTF, Executive Director Kate Maguire, has chosen to honor Wasserstein in the aftermath of her untimely death by presenting the play in Stockbridge directed by a woman making her debut with this company. This is the first major revival of the play in years, and the first since the author's death, and how significant that it should occur in such a place with such a history and connections to the original production.
But enough of history...the question at hand is how IS the production in Stockbridge and is it worth seeing. It's very good and yes, it is. Well cast and beautifully directed, the actors have all come to the material with a sense of vision, it seems, and in the short time given to put on a summer theater show, the final result is absolutely first class. The story of Heidi and her friends covers the 24 years between 1965 and her high school graduation and 1989 when she finally starts to pull her successful life together. Music, costumes and movement have coordinated nicely here to convey the times covered through the scope of the very episodic play.
The writing is a trifle pat. We have one of everything in the cast of characters: a lesbian, a homosexual, a snippy waiter, a TV producer, a lecher, a Southern woman who drawls a lot and has babies, lots of waiters - all gay, and Heidi herself, a slightly uptight art historian and author. We have a women's support group and a women's colony and a woman's baby shower; the ladies who lunch are here along with the men who just have nooners. The cross-section is predictable early on, but it doesn't matter because the cast of eight play them all with style, wit and a lot of talent.
Kate Jennings Grant is Heidi Holland. She is blonde, tall, pretty, pert and not so petite. She is brainy, ballsy, blustery and blue. Grant manages every nuance and every essence with ease. Her Heidi is always a believable person, no matter what changes have come, or are coming, over her. Not new to this stage, she somehow seems to be vitally new, not like we've seen her before. It's a case of perfect casting.
Lynn Hawley plays her best friend and confidante and plays her with sparkle. Every time Susan decides to change her life and to influence Heidi at the same time, Hawley lets out one more distinct trait we haven't yet seen and it is transforming. Patricia Buckly, in multiple roles, is the lesbian, the ardent militant, the talk-show host and more. She is wonderfully defining in each of her parts. The same can be said for Laura Heisler (in the roles played by Parker and Nixon) and Jenn Harris who plays the archetype Southern wife, among other parts. Both women do admirably and get the required laughs in their roles.
As the man Heidi almost, sort of, kinda loves, Scoop Rosenbaum, newcomer to the area Scott Lowell does a remarkable job. Here is a man we ought to hate for his oafish, manipulative, string-pulling rendition of out-of-control testosterone. However, there is something endearing about him that helps explain Heidi's constant interest and affection for him. Lowell is perhaps best known for playing Ted, the accountant on the TV series Queer As Folk, but in this instance he is the total opposite of the gay nerd he brought to life on television. Here he is handsome, vital, sexually aggressive and totally in command. It's a wonderful performance.
Equal to his peers is Tom Story as Peter Patrone, the gay pediatrician who is Heidi's best and most loyal friend. His character is a perfect representation of the type of man who came through the era of the seventies alternately shouting his identity and hiding behind trees. He makes it all work with a charm and pleasant air, even in his most difficult scene in which the influence of AIDS on his community and his work and his personal life is revealed, painfully and sadly. It is this scene which kept me from truly liking the play, in its initial production, but the result of time gone by is that it now feels exactly right for that period and more like a personal memory, bittersweet and never forgotten.
Janus Stefanowicz helps the cast cover 25 years in two and a half hours with the right clothing and the right look. Neil Patel's tight box set works, but I wish everyone could see both walls. It would have felt less claustrophobic, but perhaps that was the point. This production does not have the longest run, so take yourself out for a trip through one woman's voyage through the turbulent years that changed the lives of every "Baby Boomer" in the bunch. If you're not one of those, you really should get to know us...and this play will help.
◊ 08-19-06 ◊
Scott Lowell as Scoop; photo: Kevin Sprague
Tom Story and Kate Jennings Grant; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Heidi Chronicles plays through September 2 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. For full schedule, tickets and information contact the box office at 413-298-5576 or go to their website at www.berkshiretheatre.org.