Well-rounded, hysterically true women on Broadway in “The Heidi Chronicles”.
I recently told my ten-year-old cousina story that involved dropping off negatives to a developer. She looked at me puzzled, “Why didn’t you just print them from your phone?” I took a deep breath and explained, “Once upon a time, there was something called film…”
Missed connections between people born before and after 1990 are commonplace, mostly for good reason. Technology has changed tremendously over the past 25 years and social moors have evolved, so much so that you’d think that The Heidi Chronicles, which first premiered in 1988 and is now on Broadway in a revival production, would be dated.
I mean, with the dawn of the hyper-technology age aren’t we done with the so many “issues” that plagued women in the past?
Hardly. Recently, I spoke with director Pam Mackinnon about how The Heidi Chronicles is so rich in its story of friendship that the feminist through linerings as true in 2015 as it did when it premiered in 1988. Here’s a part of that brief conversation.
How is this play relevant to feminism in 2015?
Pam Mackinnon: I think this play is extremely relevant. This is a play about one woman’s experience as she isimprovising her way through life, surrounded by a small group of friends originally doing the same thing and caught up in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, mid ‘70s women’s movement in this country.It’s a well-written, character-driven, laugh-out-loud funny play. That kind of deep to the core kind of writing is always relevant.
I can certainly also say we’re living in a time where the issues continue. We’re still talking about women only earning, what 78 cents on the dollar? Equal pay for equal work continues to be a huge, important issue whether it’s hitting the front page of the newspaper or not. I mean, a month ago Patricia Arquette’sOscar speech mentioned the cry of parity in pay and the next day she was slapped down for it. It was kind of shocking. I feel, probably because my radar is very sensitive right now, this stuff in the news all the time.
We’re also stepping into a most-likely Hillary Clinton being the prospective Democratic nominee. A really interesting time and it’s going to get ugly, I just know there’s going to be some incredible, horribly sexist backlash. I’m girding for that as we step through the presidential campaign. It’s out there.
Having said all that this is, yes there is a political thread in this play, but it’s very much as I said earlier, about friends improvising their way through the first half of adulthood. This is an interesting coming of age story because this one comes of age in her early 40s. The audience gets personally drawn into this. You watch ex-boyfriends get married, you watch the big loves of your life come out, you watch your best childhood friend go off and become a person that maybe you aren’t that fond of any more, but nevertheless you’re very fond of and is very dear to you. I think that’s always relevant.
Ali Ahn, Elisabeth Moss, and Elise Kibler
Is there anything in particular that you want the audience to come away with after seeing the play?
PM: I think our audiences who lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s as younger adults and adults get really great hits of, “Oh my god, that’s what we were doing!”
You know, Wendy wrote a very specifically, character-driven, personal play, so it’s not as if it’s some analytical wash at history, but you sort voyeuristically peek into these people’s lives and it activates very personal things in the audience. I certainly have eavesdropped on some interesting intermission conversations.“When I was in college in 1970….” As well as people in their 20s saying, “OMG, I just went to that wedding last week!” It’s really gratifying that it opens up the personal.
Elisabeth Moss was cast in this play. Do you think that affects the audience experience in this play since her Mad Men characters goes through a similar journey?
PM: I don’t know. I mean, maybe, I certainly felt that working with Elisabeth, she was a treasure trove. Lizzy [Elisabeth Moss] sometimes herself mentioned that Peggy was the older sister to Heidi. It’s not quite following the same track and trajectory and Peggy comes from humbler roots, so there’s a class difference as their origin stories are quite different.
One really great thing the audience is used to isLizzy Moss being a shape-shifter, which I really appreciate. In The Heidi Chronicles. Lizzy goes from age 16 to early 40s and this is an actress, who is only 32, but she really convincingly performs that whole range, and I think that she did that on Mad Men, too. Some actors you go, “I’ll go see that actor in that story.”You’re demanding that actor to perform their core self at all times. But I think Lizzy, although she’s a leading lady, she’s a true character actor.
What’s a favorite story about the process of remounting The Heidi Chronicles?
P: It was an exciting process. It was an incredibly, game, smart, energized group of eight actors and my whole design team was really fantastic. I was frequently the oldest person in rehearsal and I’m not a baby boomer, I’m a Gen-Xer. So it did feel at times that I had some of my younger actors doing some early scene work at times would turn to me and say, “Wait, okay, so, as we’re trying to figure out when was the last time these friends were together.” I had the younger actors say, “Wait, so, do we have email yet?” I said, “NO!? There’s no email in this world!” Friendship is different now. You have Facebook, you have email, you can “stay in touch.” It’s not ancient history, this play lands in 1989, but that was the beginning of computer-connectivity within one college campus. I do remember very fondly trying to explain how we would communicate. “Here’s the deal, this is why the characters are having lunch right now: There is no email.”
The Heidi Chroniclesis playing at the Music Box Theater. Supporting this show is supporting feminist dialogue and awareness of women’s issues. Get your tickets at: www.theheidichroniclesonbroadway.com.
Lauren LoGiudice is a writer and performer based in NYC. Her recent project Garbo Dreams is based on Greta’s last days alone in her apartment. www.laurenlogi.com