The Heidi Chronicles‘ feminist heroine remains confused and dissatisfied
In the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, moms, aunts and grandmas paved the enlightened feminine way for their Generation X, Y and Z offspring. Hoping to better understand what it was like for my baby boomer relatives in a time when, as Gloria Steinem said, “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke,” I looked forward to seeing Wendy Wasserstein’s feminist play, The Heidi Chronicles.
On a wet and oppressive Saturday evening, my mother and I headed to the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City to see the Proscenium Players Inc.'s production.
In the car I asked my mom, “Did you ever feel like you were in some kind of revolution? I mean, did you ever think that it was difficult being a woman?”
“No, not really, but I think I’m a little young. I think [my oldest sister] probably experienced some of the bra burning and stuff that I missed.”
“Ooh,” I thought. “I’ve never seen a bra burn. I hope they light one in the play.”
As we bought our tickets, the woman at the counter warned us that the play contains offensive language. “Bad language and bra burning,” I thought to myself. I anticipated seeing some real feminist characters—women who would make me want to shave my head and break up with my boyfriend when I got home.
The play begins in 1989. A professor and art historian, Dr. Heidi Holland (Carol Heller), gives a lecture on the history of women’s art. She analyzes a delicate painting of a young woman in a baby blue dress who stares off into a vague distance. The painting reminds Heidi of her past self who, at a school dance in 1964, opted to be the observant wallflower rather than a twister and shaker like her best friend Susan Johnston (Cecilia Selwood).
The first scene introduces us to two of Heidi’s lifetime friends, Susan and Peter Patrone (Andy Alvernaz). Throughout the play we see the somewhat superficial Susan rise to the position of television executive, becoming all the more shallow and unhappy along the way. Peter, Heidi’s witty homosexual friend, becomes a respected doctor and eventually stumbles upon the same fate that many gay men of the 1980s were confronted with—AIDS.
The second scene takes place at a Eugene McCarthy for President get-together. There, Heidi meets her narcissistic love interest, Scoop Rosenbaum (Scott Van Tuyl), who at the time is the editor of Liberated Earth News. Scoop comments that Heidi is a great woman, but not marriage material. He says she is “not happy, too prissy and too caustic.”
The play traces Heidi’s life as it goes from unsatisfied to very unhappy. When it comes down to it, Heidi is not the lingerie-torching, obscenity-spitting feminist I hoped she would be. Instead, she is strangely confused by the actions of women around her—women who are sometimes extreme, sometimes passive and sometimes indifferent. She’s not sure where she stands.
The Heidi Chronicles might induce nostalgia in women like my aunt, but I think for those of us who want a picture of a woman as outspoken and devoted to her cause as Steinem, the play and Heidi herself come across as too prudish and prim. I wanted to go home and throw one of my own bras on the fire just to feel satisfied.