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3/20/15

The Heidi Chronicle's Moment for the Women and Gays

Women and gay people occupy 75%, give or take, of Broadway audiences. Don’t believe me? Just consult every Broadway League annual report of the last three years. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

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Time and time again, it seems like Broadway forgets this fact as it continues to undermine both groups. Not only are sexist shows mounted that stodgy, old men seem to love (Honeymoon in Vegas, in case you forgotten), but leading roles for women are consistently at a deficit compared to their male counterparts. And while theatre in New York is a better showcase of content (and jobs) for queers (at least compared to film and television), a majority of gay characters across all three verticals are played by heterosexual actors and homosexual actors are usually relegated to supporting roles or some stereotypical lead roll. Women and gays can do much more that be fabulous backup dancers and/or accessories to the main action, y’know…

Cue Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, which opened last night at the Music Box Theatre, where women’s art historian Heidi journeys forward to motherhood, peppered with women's groups, protests, feminism undertones and two potential suitors for romance, one a pompous douschebag, the other charming and gay. A scene with Heidi and the latter though put every other qualm or ‘okay’ moment I have about the show to rest…and I can’t help, but love it for such a subtle “FUCK YOU!” given the state of Broadway right now.

After cruising through the 60’s, 70’s and a portion of the 80’s, Heidi and her gay bestie are rendezvousing in his office late at night. He’s starting to unwind as the AIDS epidemic hits its peak, all of his friends either dead or dying (at this point, her “problems" are rendered pretty inconsequential by comparison). But the two share a bond indicative of their several decade-long companionship - one that sounds very familiar as I look over my rolodex cell phone history of best gal pals, one of which I was seeing the show with - and they still pledge to be there for one another. It was a beautifully rendered moment, buoyed by Elisabeth Moss and Bryce Pinkham knocking it out of the park, and it’s always nice to see any remotely accurate representation of my friends and I center-stage in the spotlight, let alone such an an honest and humbling one.

In addition, The Heidi Chronicles is worth seeing for the production values alone. Jessica Pabst - whom is totally nailing everything by the way, just check out her Off-Broadway credits - put out a parade of costumes that are a joy to behold and evolve accordingly through the years. John Lee Beatty’s rotating set pieces get the job done and with the graphics projected on the blank canvas, “art gallery” walls, they lent itself to updating the play. And while Pam Mackinnon may have missed a few of the marks with its quick pace, it is her swift direction that prevents Heidi and her pals from getting too sloth-like through the over two-and-a-half hour run time.

The rest of the Heidi Chronicles is a nice, but…indifferent affair. Sorry Heidi, I do understand your meandering through the mid-to-late 20th Century - the music, fashion, cultural movements, romantic prospects and the shifts in lifestyles and expectations of gender were all prominent in shaping the women who grew up in those times - but I’m hard-pressed to really love it. I get it though! And I hope others love it! But that one aforementioned scene, as amazing as it was, illuminated a lesser quality in the rest of the show…and not just because it coincided with topicality.

A woman sitting behind me at THC asked me if Honeymoon in Vegas is worth seeing. I’m all for being objective and even admitting that shows I don’t like (which are aplenty) someone else may enjoy, but I flat-out told her, “NOOO!!!” And then proceeded to tell her I’m glad she came out to see, "The Heidi Holland Power Hours." Wasserstein is one of the few women to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and we have the first Broadway revival some 25 to 26 years later. Given what it is about and the void it (temporarily) fills, any sort of qualitative takeaway from the show is ancillary. I’m just too glad that it is here to really hold much against it.


Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

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