THEATRE REVIEW: THE HEIDI CHRONICLES (2016)
Written by Wendy Wasserstein
A Soulpepper Theatre Production
Originally published in NOW Magazine on April 28, 2016 (Link)
It’s been nearly 30 years since The Heidi Chronicles won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, but it’s far from old news. Thanks to Soulpepper’s perceptive and nuanced take on its conflicting notions of womanhood, the play is still clever, funny and unmistakably relevant.
Heidi Holland (Michelle Monteith) marches to the beat of her own drum. The play charts her decades-long journey from 60s high school student to accomplished academic while navigating watershed developments in feminism. She’s politically engaged but never quite gels with the movement-at-large, so she’s often left wondering where she belongs.
It’s a messy journey that Wendy Wasserstein’s sensitive script explores without prejudice. In the end, Heidi’s own liberation means freeing herself and her choices from the interpretation of others, whether friends, lovers or her feminist sisters.
The play doesn’t always know how to handle a main character who stays on the fringes. Monteith’s Heidi has real breadth and shows both tenderness and vitality but is periodically overshadowed by more clearly crafted characters. Despite being in almost every scene, Heidi can feel more like a foil for those around her than a protagonist.
Fortunately, Gregory Prest’s direction feels considered and cohesive, and the excellent ensemble cast is well worth watching.
Sarah Wilson shows great comic chops as Heidi’s best friend, and Laura Condlln gets maximum effect from several smaller roles without making them caricatures. Damien Atkins is superb as Peter, a gay man whose unique kinship with Heidi transcends their difference of experience.
Jordan Pettle stands out as Heidi’s egocentric love interest, Scoop Rosenbaum. He spends a lifetime getting under Heidi’s skin, but Pettle’s charisma and petulant charm show us why she returns to him again and again and how he becomes such an important catalyst for her own growth.
The power of this kind of period piece derives from its ability to show us how far we’ve come while simultaneously revealing what has yet to change. There’s no doubt we’re still struggling with equal and equitable liberation from classism, sexism, racism and the like. Though it’s not always on point, The Heidi Chronicles is an important reminder that these stories are a long way from being history.