'Heidi Chronicles' is an engaging and witty indictment of '60s baloney


March 28, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

''The Heidi Chronicles,'' the Pulitzer-winning comedy-drama that ran on Broadway for 19 months, has annoyed some and pleased others. Some of those who have been annoyed by the play are feminists. That may be because the play looks back on the '60s and the women's movement with wit and bite.

Wendy Wasserman is the author of the play, which is currently playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Wasserman, who also wrote ''Isn't It Romantic?'' specializes in plays about women, in this case, women who are hovering around 40.

Wasserman was an active participant in the Sixties saga. So are the women in ''The Heidi Chronicles,'' and we meet them for the first time in Chicago where they are taking part in a consciousness-raising soiree, one of those things in which all the participants hug each other and pledge everlasting devotion. They continually assure each other that they do love each other, and that includes the lesbian who comes on like a truck.

Heidi is not really a part of all this. She is more an onlooker, participating only on occasion but always remaining on the outside. She is, however, touched by all the social change, as everyone was. She falls in love with a Me person, a young man who doesn't and never will know the meaning of the word faithful.

He later marries someone else, a woman who bears his children then loses him to a bimbo, something anyone could have predicted.

Heidi's close friend, meanwhile, is going through the familiar anxieties. When she is into her 30s, she becomes fabulously successful as a television producer, but she is still unmarried and has no children, something that seems to bother her. It's the body-clock business again.

Heidi also has a good male friend, a homosexual physician who is steadfast in his friendship, save for a final meeting in which his behavior is both boorish and mysterious. His friend is dying of AIDS. That could be the reason, but his behavior toward Heidi is never justified by this. Heidi, meanwhile, forgives, once more.

She's an amazing woman, this Heidi, but you can't always know what she is thinking. For that matter, you can't always know what any of these people are thinking because the author, intent on humor, has too many of her characters work around the point, rather than get to it.

They remain, however, good company. You may lose patience with them now and then, but they are all too real. They are people we have known, beginning with Heidi, who is almost a prototype. She is not so much with the '60s as she is victimized by them. and that's where Wasserman lets the matter lie, which may be why those feminists, beginning with Betty Friedan, are so irritated by the play.

The message, if it is clear, is that a whole generation of people, women in particular, were sold a bill of goods. They were brainwashed into thinking that they could have it all, good job, marriage and children. Many who went for the jobs found that they were losing out in other areas.

That's what ''Heidi Chronicles'' is about, more or less, and all this is stated with humor, some of it sharp, some of it cutting.

Stephanie Dunnam is winning and sometimes pitiable as the very vulnerable Heidi. Equally good are Mimi Lieber is Susan, Heidi's good friend. Mark Harelik is the engagingly irresponsible Scoop Rosenbloom, the man who loves Heidi, betrays her, then looks to her for continued friendship. She's a very strong woman, this Heidi. She remains friendly with this man, and no sensible woman would.

Robert Curtis-Brown is the doctor, and Maggie Baird, Elaine Hausman, Amy Ryan and Chris Boxer play an assortment of characters in this skit-like play. You should find no fault with their performances.

''The Heidi Chronicles'' will continue at the Eisenhower Theater through April 28. It isn't always easy to say what Wasserman's point is, though often enough, she is on target.

''The Heidi Chronicles''

*** Twenty-five years in the life of a woman who was never really a part of the '60s but whose life was deeply affected by them.

CAST: Stephanie Dunnam, Mimi Lieber, Michael Sandels, Robert Curtis-Brown, Mark Harelik, Maggie Baird, Elaine Hausman, Amy Ryan

DIRECTOR: Daniel Sullivan

L RUNNING TIME: Two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

TICKETS: (202) 467-4600

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