By Jess Decina
At first, theatergoers at The Heidi Chronicles might think they’ve stepped into the wrong event. With three screens projecting encouraging, upbeat images of women and power-pop songs from the 1970s playing in the background, it’s clear that this production is not an epic action-adventure, and certainly not heavily centered upon male characters.
So what is it about, then? The Heidi Chronicles follows Heidi Holland (senior Kerry Bowers) as she floats through three decades of heartbreak, a struggle to find gender equality and the persistent feeling of being lost and unhappy, all while trying to pursue her dream of becoming a successful art historian.
The men in her life are unavailable or unreliable, like Scoop Rosenbaum (junior Joe Sabatino), who has years of on-again, off-again flings with Heidi before marrying someone else, and Peter Patrone (senior Danny Lane), who meets Heidi at a high school dance and becomes her lifelong friend.
This might sound like two hours of feminist drivel. But instead, a solid cast and an innovative use of the stage make The Heidi Chronicles a smart, charming play that coincidentally happens to make women feel subtly empowered.
Bowers handles every one of Heidi’s characteristics with ease. She is impressive as an awkward, apologetic teenager who hides on the bleachers and reads a book at a school dance; she’s just as good as a middle-aged art teacher who speaks with confidence and sass. She handles Heidi’s slow disintegration and eventual breakdown with the perfect amount of emotion. In a scene where Heidi admits to feeling stranded and insecure, Bowers delivers the lines with such straightforward sadness that you can’t help but feel you’ve let her down somehow.
Lane, who is adorable as Heidi’s best friend, is just as impressive. He gives the play some of its funniest moments with dead-on delivery. Lane is especially a riot in a scene where he antagonizes one of Heidi’s snobby friends with caustic one-liners and a charming smirk on his face. Hearing him chant the protest of “Women in art!” in his deep voice with all sincerity is a classic moment of the play.
Together, Bowers and Lane have an affectionate, platonic chemistry — they lean on one another, hold hands and tease each other with playful dialogue — but it never seems forced or feels
The play also has a number of scenes that usually involve four to five actors participating at once. All of them are pulled off extremely well, especially in a scene where Bowers, Sabatino and Lane appear on a talk show hosted by junior Erin Ludwig. The actors work seamlessly together in the scene for a great end result.
Surrounding the characters on stage is a seemingly simple set — a handful of platforms with three projectors suspended above. With just these simple pieces, the different settings and contexts are brought to life, which is a great asset for a play that often jumps around in time.
A scene that takes place at a wedding reception makes excellent use of the stage. One side of the curtain is closed, blocking out one of the screens and pushing the action of the play downstage and close to the audience. The two projection screens in view display images of a reception hall to set the rest of the scene. It’s one of many examples of how efficiently the stage is used, despite the wide variety of settings in the play.
Last Friday’s performance had only one or two minor issues in the form of actors stumbling a bit over their lines. These little hiccups didn’t leave any lasting injury since the performers were able to recover quickly and keep the lines moving. Many scenes in the play rely heavily on wordy dialogue or lengthy monologues, and it’s understandable when an actor misses a few words here and there.
Arguably, The Heidi Chronicles might not be for everyone; it somewhat limits itself to an audience of women over 20. But that doesn’t keep it from being an innovative and genuinely moving performance. At first glance, it might not be the show for you, but it’s definitely a production that warrants a closer look.