Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: APRIL 9, 2010
Young women today take their freedoms and options for granted. They rarely realize what came before, the stages and ages and battles and shouting and marching and bra-burning and smashing of glass ceilings. Well, Heidi’s here to remind you. Or I should say, Wendy. That would be Wendy Wasserstein, the late, much-loved playwright who was, perhaps, the first to put on paper what women were thinking and feeling, through the feverish decades from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, from the first sprigs of feminism, through consciousness-raising and the full flowering of the women’s movement. We Boomers wanted it all, and we fought to get it. But, as we all know, that didn’t quite work out. Compromises were made, losses were felt, idealism turned to disillusionment. Babies or husbands or career advancement were in a push-me-pull-you relationship. Something or other had to give.
When Wasserstein premiered “The Heidi Chronicles” in 1988, it was a funny, poignant eye-opener that won the Pulitzer Prize. I’ve never found it worthy. The play is superficial, and can actually be viewed as anti-feminist. But its very existence was influential, laying the groundwork for scads of female writers to come, who still don’t have their rightful place in the American theater landscape.
Meanwhile, there’s Heidi, chronicling her lurching evolution through the decades. I’ve never found her to be a very satisfying character. She’s smart and witty, well educated, and, as an art historian, she teaches us a bit about the forgotten women of art history. But she’s frustrating and depressive, always more a witness and observer than a participant. And with all her liberated leanings, both she and the play are driven and defined by men.
Heidi doesn’t change much over the course of these turbulent years. Perhaps that’s symbolically represented by the one uncharacteristic costume worn by Kristianne Kurner throughout the New Village Arts production. One of the most amusing aspects of this odyssey is the outrageous fluctuations in clothes and hairstyles. That’s what makes the piece so visually entertaining. None of that here; the outfits are uninteresting, the hairdos don’t vary. Also, though very explicit, era-defining music is specified in the play, here it’s all performed by Linda Libby , who’s a wonderful singer, but that single solo voice robs us of the bittersweet nostalgia of hearing the inimitable Janis Joplin or Sam Cook, or even “The Shoop Shoop Song.”
The performances are more earnest than comical and, under the aegis of first-time director Amanda Sitton , they fail to capture the times, or the New York Jewish sensibility that was the hallmark of Wasserstein and her autobiographical work. But as a piece of theater history and women’s history, “The Heidi Chronicles,” with all its wrinkles and warts, is back in town.
“The Heidi Chronicles” runs through April 25, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad .
©2010 PAT LAUNER