Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Heidi Chronicles
The central character, Heidi Holland (Ellen Karas), is an intelligent woman trying to make a difference as an art history professor focusing specifically on women painters, most of whom were unknown to the general public until the late 20th century. Heidi grows and progresses from 1965, when she is an awkward adolescent at a high school dance, to the late 1980s. Along the way, she encounters student activism, women's consciousness raising, gay rights and the question of what compromises may be necessary for a happy and satisfying life.
Karas ably inhabits her character's frustrations as a woman who finds something to believe in, then gets frustrated when other people don't go along with it leading to a memorable meltdown. As another character says, she's "a serious good person" and "the true believer who didn't understand that all this is just a phase."
To set Heidi in greater relief, Wasserstein has given her a lifelong best friend, Susan Johnston. Catherine Weidner does the best she can with a character whose purpose seems to be that she encapsulates every choice Heidi did not make, from clerking for a Supreme Court justice in Washington, to raising sheep on a women's commune in Montana, then to a business degree and eminence in Hollywood.
The actors playing the two men in Heidi's life give performances as good as Karas', and they are well matched: Marty Lodge as Scoop Rosenbaum, hotshot journalist and a man who, while he cares about Heidi, chooses to marry a woman whose ego doesn't threaten his; and Wynn Harmon as Peter Patrone, a clever, witty pediatrician who is also gay. Lodge gives Scoop enough surface charm that he seems ultimately pitiful rather than hateful, and Harmon conveys both the character's insouciance and a growing fury that eventually has to break out.
Wasserstein sums up the rest of Heidi's world in broad strokes, including a 1960s women's group with a lost, abused young woman, a rebellious homemaker, and a hilariously militant lesbian; Scoop's steel-magnolia wife and her younger sister, who sees only the financial rewards in the feminist struggle; and an airheaded talk show host in a sunshine yellow suit and matching heels.
Donald Eastman's scenic design does a lot with a little, primarily using different kinds of chairs to denote different settings. Merrily Murray-Walsh captures the excesses of several eras in her costumes, from Heidi's 1968 trapeze dress with Mondrian-style blocks of color to the exaggerated shoulder pads of the 1980s women's suits and Scoop's burgundy jacket and vest.
A series of projections designed by Kirby Malone and Gail Scott White sets each scene in a concrete historical context while also introducing the audience to examples of women's art through the years.