Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs Star in Feminist Flashback, "The Heidi Chronicles"
Wendy Wasserstein said she wrote “The Heidi Chronicles” because, “I had this image of a woman standing up at a women’s meeting saying, ‘I’ve never been so unhappy in my life.’ Talking to friends, I knew there was this feeling around, in me and in others, and I thought it should be expressed theatrically. But it wasn’t. The more angry it made me that these feelings weren’t being expressed, the more anger I put into that play.”
Her final draft--eventually a Broadway hit in 1989--included humor and nuance with all the anger, so the chronicles of one woman’s feminist experience hit home with thousands of Americans, male and female. And now, as a testament to its poignance, the play is back on Broadway, starring two of-the-moment actors: Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs.
Moss (of Mad Men fame) is Heidi Holland, an art historian who falls for Scoop Rosenbaum, the swaggering reporter played by Biggs. We see their relationship over decades, as Heidi graduates school, writes a book, and never quite figures out the secret to happiness or “having it all.”
Watching this play in the midst of third-wave feminism, the immediate question “The Heidi Chronicles” asks is, How far have we really come? Many of these scenes feel familiar, particularly when the women insult themselves or each other. Wasserstein even captured a phenomenon she didn’t have a name for in the 80s: manterruption. Heidi, Scoop, and Heidi’s best gay friend Peter are guests on a morning talk show, during which Heidi never gets a word in edgewise, even when questions are directed at her. She’s furious after, and Scoop mansplains: “It’s not my fault you didn’t say anything!”
On the plus side, the play’s central struggle of having it all is, thanks to the Internet, much more talked about today than it was then, and the discussion has broadened beyond wrap groups and “Women: Where Are We Going?” luncheons. The idea of a woman devoting herself to her husband’s needs certainly sounds antiquated, making Heidi’s wish for her daughter: “He’ll never tell you either-or,” when it comes to love and independence, ideally true.
Watch this revival for a funny, fast-paced look at feminism over the past 50 years, and consider it an opportunity to reflect at the evolving we still have to do. Will you leave feeling hopeful? Elisabeth Moss wagers yes: “I do think this play is hopeful, and the audience should as well," she told MAKERS. "I think that they should feel inspired and hopeful. I think it’s a hopeful, positive ending.”
Go see for yourself, and see exclusive photos from the production in the slideshow above. All photos by JOAN MARCUS.