Give Wendy Wasserstein credit: Her play The Heidi Chronicles brilliantly toes the line between remaining relevant to new, contemporary audiences while simultaneously exemplifying how far we've come from tumultuous years of inequality for women. The play in that way demonstrates in 2015 how despite all the progress we've made in America, there are still cultural effects that must be grappled with and dealt with for the sake of the next generation.
Heidi Holland, played by Elisabeth Moss, doesn't start out -- much less set out -- as a born leader. But her unflinching dedication to making something of herself, and raising the profile of women before her in the art world, is commendable and admirable. As Heidi watches her friends grow up and move on, she stays committed to the hope and dream that she can establish herself and her cause without making concessions.
What's so remarkable about Heidi is how hard she is on herself without lashing out against those who seem to be leaving her camp. Her best friend Susan (Ali Ahn) represents the ping-pong-ball nature of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and how people reinvented themselves in pursuit of new ideas, ambitions and passions. Heidi, however, holds steady, emerging as a well-known and well-respected art historian and professor at Columbia University. Throughout all the changes of eras, director Pam MacKinnon calls our attention to Heidi's personal evolution, and not the external revolution. The historical background and context are useful only as they shine back on the protagonist.
Her best friend Peter (Bryce Pinkham) and ex-boyfriend (Jason Biggs) grow older and take on new elements and aspects to their lives. They show up at opportune times. Pinkham's Broadway prowess overpowers the Hollywood actors for much of the play when he is paired up with them. Peter seems to be performing the whole time, as if we never truly get to see a sincere moment from him. But we do get a strong indication of what Heidi seeks from him: comfort, familiarity, and liveliness.
John Lee Beatty's sets convey the chaos and uncertainty of the era that the play covers. You sit in the audience wondering what the play looks like from behind the scenes, as the scenery and props rotate in and out with the changing roles of the characters, in some cases quite literally as they play multiple parts. Everything circles in and then back out the same door it used to enter. Heidi, by the end, sits alone in her empty apartment, nursing a newborn she adopted, and also decades of memories that got her to that certain place in time.