Spotlighters Theatre's version of 'The Heidi Chronicles' a noble effort

February 20, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Special to The Evening Sun

From the "flower people" idealism of the '60s to the self-serving rapacity of the '80s, one woman embarks on a long, torturous journey of personal fulfillment in Wendy Wasserstein's wonderfully ironic comedy "The Heidi Chronicles."

On stage at the Spotlighters Theatre through March 1, Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winning work also garnered the 1989 Tony Award for Best Play.

Although directed with a certain sensitivity by Miriam Bazensky, the Spotlighters production is, at best, a noble effort to convey the title character's complex odyssey of self-discovery.

Wasserstein's work crackles with sophisticated, sardonic humor that comments hilariously on the human condition. Despite the fact that the majority of characters are women struggling to get an equal foothold in a male dominated society, the play remains one of universal appeal.

The script mainly tracks the long friendship between Heidi and Susan from school days to their top ranking careers.

In the new found freedom of the women's movement, the female population is told they can have it all -- independence, free love, equality of the sexes, career, home and family.

But they cannot have it all as our heroine, Heidi, painfully learns. With maturity comes the responsibility of making choices. And she does, in the end, make a significant choice that symbolizes her inherent integrity and coming of age.

The play is told in a series of flashbacks combined with incisive monologues delivered by Heidi, who has achieved her goal as an art historian specializing in lectures on little-known women painters.

In her search for an equal relationship with a man, she is sidetracked by Scoop, a slick, self-serving, pseudo-intellectual who, in the end, marries a less competitive woman.

She also discovers that the other man in her life, her best friend Peter, is gay. Trying to tackle these rough experiences with brave humor, Heidi also has to deal with disquieting changes in her friendship with Susan and other close friends.

While an honored guest delivering a speech to her college alumnae, Heidi "loses it" before a stunned audience. She says she feels stranded. "The point was to be in it together," she cries, bewildered, "not alone."

The timing and pace in the Spotlighters version is much too slow. This is a comedy and the verbal exchanges and physical movement need to be crisp, clever and quick.

Of all, Tom Nolte seems to grasp the heart of his character. Shy, funny, intellectual, mocking yet poetic, Nolte is exceptional. But Glenn Klavans sorely lacks the sureness and charismatic charm of the opportunistic Scoop.

Edie Catto convinces as the ambivalent Susan and Darlene Deardorff is a riot in a series of delightful cameos. Laura McFarland does well in three different character roles.

Amy Jo Shapiro is Heidi. The actress is quite handsome in appearance and delivers her lines intelligently but she seems, somehow, unconnected to the motivations, feelings and caustic, defensive humor of this strong yet vulnerable and honest woman.

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