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It’s said that Harvard freshman should know what they want before they even step foot in the yard. “Grades, sleep, friends—pick two,” runs the standard maxim. Wanting everything would be asking too much.
Whether one can have it all, or should even desire it, are driving questions of “The Heidi Chronicles,” Wendy Wasserstein’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about an art historian searching for fulfillment among the women’s rights movement. Wasserstein’s Heidi came of age in the sixties and entered adulthood in the seventies, a time when women were supposed to achieve independence and gain new freedoms. She has brains, looks, and a successful career. So why is she so unhappy?
Last weekend’s production of “Chronicles,” directed by Charlotte H. Alter ’12 in the Adams Pool Theater, made these questions relevant and resonant. Led by a skilled cast and subtle directing, Heidi’s wanders and wonders were immediate and moving.
The plot is straightforward. Looking back from 1989, where Heidi (MacKenzie Sigalos ’10) is a professor specializing in women’s art, the play moves from her high school days and follows her increasing frustration with both her life and her peers. As Heidi struggles to reconcile her disappointment with the outcome of her choices and with the women’s movement, she remains firm in her belief that “all people deserve to fulfill their own potential.”
Such a biographical story places much weight on one character, but Sigolos carried a strong Heidi through the duration of the play. Her role is a demanding one—she was in every scene and at times performed almost entirely on her own—yet her delivery was seamless.
Nuances add flavor to the play’s simple timeline, and the supporting cast fully exploited these. On the one hand, “Chronicles” deals with grave themes: at its heart is the potential failure of feminism. But it is also a social satire, and a very funny one.
Around Heidi flit a host of eccentric characters who add color and humor to the play. As Susan Johnston, Heidi’s volatile best friend, Emily B. Hyman ’13 was both boisterous and comical. She portrayed extreme change with grace. At the play’s beginning, she is a loud member of a woman’s collective in Montana. By the end, she is one more discouraging force in Heidi’s life. “I mean, equal rights is one thing, equal pay is one thing, but blaming everything on being a woman is just passé,” she says at one point.
Noah A. Hoch ’11 was well-cast as the obnoxious and charismatic Scoop Rosenbaum, Heidi’s long time lover. His disaffected tone was proof that Heidi should hate him, but his suave stance made her attraction equally convincing.
At times these characters verged on stereotype—a result of the play’s writing that aided the mostly freshman cast. For while it is a portrait of a generation, ”Chronicles” is told through Heidi’s memory, and her own viewpoint colors the impression of her surroundings. Ancillary figures were often played by one actor, as if Heidi grouped her acquaintances into easy categories.
This prism-like view of Heidi’s world carried through in the direction of the play. The Adams Pool space was transformed into a gallery for the occasion, and a well-curated selection of female student art lined the walls—much like it might in Heidi’s apartment. More striking was Alter’s staging. Each scene was posed and set—the characters moved very little—so that they resembled tableaus rather than moving life. Their picture-like qualities both hearkened back to Heidi’s profession and highlighted the stationary condition of her memories. Such small touches were notable, considering “Chronicles” marks Alter’s directorial premiere. Such strong choices ultimately make the play relevant to its college audience.
“Chronicles” is time-stamped by references to specific events and a soundtrack culled from the staples of classic rock. Scoop’s magazine is even called “Boomer” in reference to his peers. For this reason the play could easily feel outdated. What for Wasserstein’s 1988 adult audience would have been familiar, might easily have weighted the college production. But Alter’s direction and the cast’s acting elevate “Chronicles” from a portrait of Baby Boomer women to a larger exploration of fulfillment and happiness.
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