ReviewStage

‘The Heidi Chronicles’ is an Eye-Opening Play about Feminism, Politics and Women’s Rights

By Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor

Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com
Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com

Can women actually have it all? Heidi Holland ponders this as she takes audiences on a journey from high school to her career as an art historian.  Along the way, she tries to cope with feminism, politics, motherhood and hardest of all: men. The Heidi Chronicles opened last night at the Music Box Theatre in NYC and tells the story of the everlasting struggle of growing up as a woman in the 1960-1980s.

The Heidi Chronicles tells the story of Heidi Holland (Elisabeth Moss) as she navigates through her adolescence and adulthood in an ever changing society. This coming of age story exhibits 19 characters through 13 scenes in 3 decades and 4 cities but the constant factor is Heidi and her diverse group of friends. Through these twenty years she meets several important female characters that help her discover the meaning of feminism and her role as a woman in the ever changing society. The two important male characters in the play are Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham), a gay pediatrician who is Heidi’s best friend and struggles with his place in the society, and Scoop Rosenbaum (Jason Biggs), a hot-shot magazine editor who is married but can’t seem to stay faithful. Heidi journeys from high school to her career as a art historian as she deals with feminism and her role as a woman.

Tracee Chimo and Ali Ahn in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com
Tracee Chimo and Ali Ahn in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com

Written by Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles made its original Broadway debut in 1989 at the Plymouth Theatre, now renamed the Gerald Schoenfeld. The production featured Joan Allen as Heidi, Peter Friedman as Scoop and Boyd Gaines as Peter. That year the play took home the Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Featured Actor in a Play for Gaines. Wasserstein also won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play was also turned into a TV movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Heidi, Tom Hulce as Peter and with Friedman reprising the role of Scoop. Now, The Heidi Chronicles is making its triumphant return to Broadway with direction by Tony Award Winner Pam MacKinnon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

One of the incredible aspects of this show is the ensemble. The play consists of nineteen characters however, there are only five ensemble members. Just by the numbers, that’s pretty impressive. And even with the five ensemble members, one of them never switches characters. That would be Ali Ahn who continuously plays Heidi’s high school friend, Susan, throughout the years. This leaves four incredibly talented ensemble members to play close to fifteen characters. The shining star of this ensemble is Tracee Chimo. Chimo is known for her work in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Harvey starring Jim Parsons and Irena’s Vow. Chimo seamlessly transforms into four, very pivotal characters. She goes from Fran, a lesbian feminist who befriends Heidi in the 1970s, into Molly, Susan’s date to Scoop’s wedding, into Betsy, a very pregnant woman who works with Scoop at his magazine and finally into April, the stereotypical ditzy talk show host. All her characters are vastly different in characteristics but they all have one common factor: Chimo’s incredible sense of humor and physical comedy. She astounds in these roles along with the rest of the ensemble.

Elisabeth Moss in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com
Elisabeth Moss in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com

Of course Heidi Holland is the star of The Heidi Chronicles and Elisabeth Moss delivers. Moss is best known for her work in the hit AMC series Mad Men, which begins it’s final string of episodes on April 5th. She has shed the persona of Peggy Olson for a very similar character. Over the course of Mad Men, Peggy evolved from a plain secretary to a stylish, ambitious and powerful advertising copywriter. Heidi also has to adapt with the times and learn to become an ambitious, career driven woman in the 1980s. This is Moss’ second time on Broadway and she is leaving her mark. She made her Broadway debut in 2008 in the play Speed-the-Plow and is now back and better than ever. Moss does an excellent job at portraying the realistic struggles Heidi is facing. From trying to get more women artists in a Chicago art museum to pondering the age old question, “Can women have a career and a family?” Her best scene comes during Act two when she goes to a conference at her Alma Mater and delivers a gut-wrenching speech. What starts out as her talking about feminism quickly shifts to Heidi pouring her heart out about how unhappy she is with the life she has lived. Moss delivers a stellar performance and could see a Tony Award nomination in her future.

The other star player in The Heidi Chronicles is Bryce Pinkham’s portrayal of Peter. Pinkham is no stranger to Broadway and has become a household name in the theatre community. Last season, he gave an effortless performance in the Tony Award winning musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love a Murder. His work as Monty Navarro earned him a 2014 Tony Award nomination. Pinkham now plays Peter, Heidi’s gay best friend and the stable rock in her life. Peter tends to be the comic relief throughout The Heidi Chronicles. Pinkham uses his physical comedy and dry sense of humor to create some the best scenes in the play. What is really impressive is his ability to go from moments of pure comedy to shear heartbreak. He has two pivotal scenes that show his exquisite acting range.

Bryce Pinkham in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com
Bryce Pinkham in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com

The first scene comes in Act one when Heidi is outside a Chicago art museum protesting the lack of female artists showcased. Peter arrives to support Heidi but is quickly berated by a frazzled and stressed out Heidi. She tells him something along the lines of he doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a marginalized group in society. A teary-eyed Peter then tells his best friend that he is a gay man and knows exactly how it feels. Pinkham does an exceptional job of portraying a man who wants so much to be accepted by his best friend.

The next standout scene from Pinkham comes at the end of Act two when Heidi arrives at his pediatric office ready to donate her old books, records and clothes. When Heidi announces she is leaving town and doesn’t know when she will see Peter again, Pinkham launches into one of the best speeches of the night as he tries desperately to get his friend to stay and see that there are bigger problems in the world than her unhappiness. This scene takes place during the height of the AIDS epidemic and Peter has begun to lose friends and past boyfriends to the disease. Without explicitly saying this, Pinkham does an amazing and moving job at showing Peter’s pain. If there was someone who could win a Tony Award from this production it would be Pinkham.

Tracee Chimo, Jason Biggs, Elisabeth Moss and Bryce Pinkham in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com
Tracee Chimo, Jason Biggs, Elisabeth Moss and Bryce Pinkham in The Heidi Chronicles. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus/Broadway.com

Although Jason Biggs is the other major actor in The Heidi Chronicles, his performance fades into the background. Scoop is the hot-shot writer who toys with Heidi’s heart throughout the show. His scenes with Moss are funny and the themes they discuss resurface throughout the play, however in the end the scenes are not memorable. Although this character is important to Heidi, Biggs acting is nothing spectacular and he fades into the background.

The Heidi Chronicles may seem outdated for some younger audience members however, the themes are still relevant. Feminism, women’s rights, politics and motherhood are still applicable themes young women struggle with today. Heidi is a character that can span generations of women and help showcase a constant battle of the sexes. Although The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Eugene McCarthy and Ronald Reagan are some of the pop culture references in the play, Heidi still represents every girls dream of trying to have it all: a dream job and a family.

The Heidi Chronicles is currently playing at The Music Box Theatre in NYC until August 9, 2015. For more info and tickets visit: http://www.theheidichroniclesonbroadway.com/

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