Bright fa,cades and serious insights. A witty satirist looks at the fruits of the women's movement
New York — The Heidi Chronicles Play by Wendy Wasserstein. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Both acts of ``The Heidi Chronicles,'' at Playwrights Horizons, feature lectures. Yet the latest comedy by Wendy Wasserstein, whose achievements include ``Uncommon Women and Others'' and ``Isn't It Romantic,'' is anything but didactic.
Miss Wasserstein, one of the contemporary American theater's wittiest satirists, is taking a long look (1965-88) at the women's movement and its aftereffects. The results are exceedingly funny - with a rueful undertone.
The comedy opens in the present day in New York as Dr. Heidi Holland (Joan Allen) is giving one of her talks on neglected women artists. Heidi is the kind of lecturer audiences enjoy - knowledgeable, with a light touch.
Thereafter, the action flashes back to Chicago in 1965 and to the succession of events that accompany Heidi's emergence from bourgeois conventionality through feminist liberation and career fulfillment.
The formative events include a 1965 high school dance, consciousness-raising sessions in the '60s and '70s (replete with obligatory obscenities), and almost-love affairs that founder for one reason or another. As the play ends, Heidi has undertaken the responsibilities of an adoptive single parent.
Here, as elsewhere, Miss Wasserstein dramatizes the ways in which Heidi and her liberated sisters have made use of their newfound, hard-won freedom. And this is where Heidi's disillusionment sets in.
Having triumphed in their battles ``to be me,'' the friends of the encounter sessions seem to have forgotten the ideals they once cherished, and concentrated instead on advancing their careers and realizing their personal ambitions. One friend has settled into an obviously uneasy domesticity. Two have become hot-shot TV promoters who think Heidi may have material for a show on women in art.
Whatever its minor-key undertones, ``The Heidi Chronicles'' revels in its comic and satiric surfaces. Among the sharply pointed incidents are the rainy-day protest outside a Chicago art museum; the devastating events of a Hotel Pierre wedding; and the television talk show during which two male guests (Boyd Gaines and Peter Friedman) monopolize the talk by answering the questions addressed to Heidi. As one of Heidi's friends observes: ``I like men, but they're really not very nice.''
Daniel Sullivan has staged a performance of bright fa,cades and serious insights. Miss Allen personifies Heidi's charm, intelligence, and humor, along with the sadness that accompanies her growing awareness of the losses in idealism and selfless dedication that have accompanied the gains of the women's movement.
The principals include Mr. Friedman as the one-time editor of an underground newspaper who's turned into a publishing tycoon, Mr. Gaines as a professed cynic whose devotion to Heidi is conditioned by his professed homosexuality, and Ellen Parker as the naive feminist of the early days.
``The Heidi Chronicles'' is also admirably served by Anne Lange, Joanne Camp, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Drew McVety, all of whom play multiple roles. The production has been attractively designed by Thomas Lynch (settings), Pat Collins (lighting), and Jennifer Von Mayrhauser (costumes). ``The Heidi Chronicles'' was first presented in workshop by the Seattle Repertory Theatre in association with Playwrights Horizons.