“The Heidi Chronicles” Searching for Identity

Illustration by Adalyn Burchard

Held in the UVU Noorda Theatre was a play called “The Heidi Chronicles,” written by Wendy Wasserstein in 1988. At the time of its initial release, it received national praise and garnered a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for best play — the first female independent of a male co-writer to do so. Cited as tapping into many of the zeitgeist of the times, it navigates the complexities of the changing landscapes of traditional lifestyles, particularly in regards to feminism.

Opting not to follow a traditional story structure with an inciting incident, rising action and climax, it instead takes a look into the life of a woman named Heidi through a series of witty vignettes from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. Rather than focus on the choices Heidi makes, it showcases how their consequences shape her romantic and platonic relationships.

Some have criticized its portrayal of feminism as lacking the subversive elements needed to put the issues of feminism in context, but Wasserstein has stated that her plays tend to be autobiographical, thus this play can be viewed as an individual journey through the complexities of its era and not a comprehensive social critic some may have preferred. Regardless, it was groundbreaking at the time of its release and opened many eyes to the complexities women face.

This theme of individual identity is furthered in a rousing speech Heidi gives near the end of the play. She is struggling with feelings of inadequacy while comparing herself to other women in a locker room. She concludes with this mournful musing, “I don’t blame any of us. We’re all concerned, intelligent, good women. It’s just that I feel stranded. And I thought that the whole point was that we wouldn’t feel stranded. I thought the point was that we were all in this together.” Heidi will have to determine what is best for herself and not be confined by other’s ideals of what her life should be.

The play lacks some of the luster it must have had when it first premiered on Broadway as it was primarily meant for an audience that had experienced its times. There is a level of cultural nostalgia that is disconnected from contemporary audiences and only grows increasingly stale with each pacing year. That isn’t to say its themes still don’t have relevance today — in fact, with current polarized sentiments, messages of individual identity could prove very vital. Certain nuances have been lost when taken out of the frame of reference to the generation it was intended for.

The UVU Theatre Department gave an insightful look into a time of history not so long ago that went through radical change. The cast expertly juggled the deep complexity of the dialogue with a level of finesse that left a lasting impression. Especially in the case of the lead, who had to display a subtle but significant level of believable character development throughout the performance. The play was hosted outside which offered some disruptions in the form of planes flying overhead, the blare of horns in traffic and pesky mosquitoes. It made the dialogue hard if not altogether impossible to understand at times, but overall the experience proved well-worthwhile and didn’t detract too much from all the hard work that went into the production. There are certain titular works of art that capture synthesized sentiments of their times of which it is safe to say “The Heidi Chronicles” can number itself among.

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