Theater Info for the Washington DC region

H-B Woodlawn Secondary School The Heidi Chronicles

By • Apr 6th, 2009 • Category: Cappies

The social revolution of the Sixties, the birth of feminism, and one woman’s quest for identity- each combined to form a complex picture of women’s place in society in The Heidi Chronicles, poignantly performed by H-B Woodlawn Secondary School.

Written in 1988 by Wendy Wasserstein, a pioneer in the subgenre of feminist theatre, The Heidi Chronicles is the only play written by a woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It begins as Heidi, an art historian, lectures at Columbia University on the neglect of women painters throughout history, and recalls the events that shaped her own feelings of marginalization. Through flashbacks, which begin with Heidi’s high school dance in 1968 and continue through the McCarthy era, the feminist movement, Reagan-era greed, the spectre of AIDS and the awareness of approaching old age, Heidi’s quest for purpose in the Baby Boom Generation is revealed.

Masterfully paced and maturely acted, the success of H-B’s production lay primarily in the actors’ ability to extend Heidi’s story to a relatable metaphor for not only women or Baby Boomers, but anyone who has ever sought meaning and identity for their own life. Student director Elizabeth Marsden successfully incorporated the script’s irony, humor, and wit into a performance that collectively transcended feminist stereotypes.

As the title character, Caitlin Levine led the talented cast with poise, intelligence, and a subtle vulnerability. Tackling heavy dialogue, including one particularly climactic monologue in which she revealed that she felt “left behind,” Levine handled her witty, unique character with ease. Her development from awkward teenager to idealistic intellectual to lost, disappointed woman, was seamlessly portrayed, and she forged almost tangible connections with other characters as the play progressed. One such character was Addison Janney as Peter, a caustic but lovable gay pediatrician who supports Heidi as she attempts to discover herself. As Scoop, an arrogant opportunist whose charisma typifies him as the man who leads intelligent women to make bad decisions, Johnny Landers believably matured as the play progressed. Landers and Levine’s chemistry smoldered, making unspoken moments between the two some of the most memorable in the play.

Olivia Myers brimmed with life whenever she appeared, first as Fran, a fiery lesbian physicist eager to advance women’s status, and later as Lisa, Scoop’s friendly, unchallenging Stepford wife. Her complete lack of inhibitions and fearless physicality were outstanding without being overpowering. Julia Petro executed the most drastic character transformation as Heidi’s friend Susan, who abandons her feminist principles to become a Hollywood producer. Montana Debor had a delightful cameo as Jill, an overworked mother of four, eager to reclaim her responsibilities to herself.

The simple scenery and lighting worked well in the intimate black box venue, allowing the focus to remain on the actors. Actors covered well for late sound cues, and musical selections, from Janis Joplin to John Lennon, effectively formed a time lime for Heidi’s growth and searching.

H-B’s powerful, thought-provoking production commendably portrayed a universal human longing- to create for ourselves a meaningful, rewarding life.

by Emily O’Connell of Bishop Ireton High School

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