By Kay Kipling
Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, about art historian Heidi Holland coming of age from the 1960s to the 1980s, touched a chord with many viewers when it first bowed in the late 1980s—and took home both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize, too. With its often funny, often touching look at the struggle for a smart, caring woman to, as Heidi says, “fulfill her potential,” Wasserstein’s play spoke strongly to women of a certain generation, naturally, but to both men and women of other ages as well.
Only a little of that strength comes through in the Asolo Rep’s current production, unfortunately; from seeing this version of Wasserstein’s heartfelt, personal play, you might come away thinking The Heidi Chronicles is all about the costumes, the music, and the stereotypes of the eras it passes through, rather than any meaningful search for human fulfillment. As directed by Laura Kepley, it’s played as a broad comedy that only very occasionally goes any deeper than the shiny surface.
That’s not the fault of Elizabeth King-Hall, who as Heidi does keep us connected to her character, as she grows from a high schooler at a 1965 dance to an earnest college student facing the winds of change blowing in 1968 to a woman in her 30s wondering about the choices she’s made. Heidi wants to succeed at her chosen profession, and she’s also, as sometime boyfriend Scoop Rosenbaum (Zachary Fine) tells her, “a true believer,” willing to march on the Art Institute of Chicago for not showing enough women artists. But she’d also like a relationship, one that makes her feel good about herself (as hers with Scoop does not), as well as good friends, a better world, and, perhaps, a family. Can she have it all?
That question certainly resonates with women today as much as it did when the play premiered, and at times Wasserstein’s writing and passion are enough to overcome the superficiality of the production, which moves swiftly along with many changes of costume (designed by Jennifer Caprio) for Heidi and the ensemble cast to reflect different times and places. But other than King-Hall as Heidi, and sometimes Brian Sills as her lifelong friend, gay pediatrician Peter Patrone, the characters onstage are all caricatures—overdrawn mouthpieces we don’t care about.
Sure, Scoop is supposed to be arrogant and sometimes abrasive, but he’s got to have charm and vulnerability, too, or Heidi wouldn’t be drawn to him. And there’s no feeling of connection between Heidi and her longtime best friend, Susan (Gail Rastorfer), who moves from a Montana women’s collective to a high-powered Hollywood studio job; she comes across almost as banal as the morning talk show host played by Brittany Proia (who, like other FSU/Asolo Conservatory third-year students, plays a variety of roles here).
There’s no doubt some audiences will still enjoy the production, reveling in Wasserstein’s wit and having their moments of self-recognition as the decades unfurl. It’s just too bad that the heart of the show isn’t really beating.
The Heidi Chronicles continues through March 17; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.