Review: ‘The Heidi Chronicles’ at The Clarice

The University of Maryland’s Production of The Heidi Chronicles, by playwright Wendy Wasserstein and directed by Scot Reese, leads the audience through the productive life of protagonist Heidi Holland, an early feminist who negotiates the changing expectations of women and men from the 1960s through the late 1980s. This Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play addresses some important issues of the Women’s Rights Movement in the mid-twentieth century.

‘The Heidi Chronicles’ at the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. Photo by David Andrews.

Heidi Holland is a noted art historian and professor at Columbia University who criticizes the art world for ignoring gifted female artists. The play opens with Heidi lecturing students on this topic. Through a series of flashbacks, we see Heidi at different events in her life: a high school dance, a McCarthy for President rally, a Women’s Liberation Group meeting, and several other occasions that culminate in Heidi’s decision to adopt a baby girl.

The Clarice production featured the clever technique of denoting scene changes by playing movies and TV shows from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, played on old-fashioned televisions. This effect not only made the production interesting to watch but was a creative way to announce the time period of each scene. A scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window flashed on the picture tube television indicating that the scene was from the 1960s. A news flash with Walter Cronkite and scenes from the Mary Tyler Moore Show indicated the 1970s. The 1980s were heralded by a projected film of Drew Barrymore on the Johnny Carson Show and clips of Margaret Thatcher.

Strong performances by Lauren Alberg (Fran/April/Molly/Betsy), Koki Belikow (Peter Patrone), and Anthony Kiser (Scoop Rosenbaum) were entertaining. Ms. Alberg’s range of regional accents was impressive. She played a Midwestern lesbian, a wealthy socialite, and a New York TV host with seamless ease and a change in diction and accent for each. Mr. Belikow was a likable cynic, delivering his witty lines with perfect timing. Kiser’s Scoop, a man Heidi encounters at a McCarthy rally and has a problematic relationship with, is so good in portraying condescension and arrogance that he is detestable.

As a play about Women’s Equality, it is apt that most of the characters and actors are women. Unfortunately, the strongest lines are written for and delivered by men. Perhaps because her character is rather detached, Amber Smithers’ (Heidi’s) acting followed suit. 

Overall, the play’s exploration of inequality among disparate stakeholders in society, its use of TV clips, and exciting performances by several of the supporting actors make this a production worth seeing. 

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Heidi Chronicles runs through May 11, 2019, at Kogod Theatre at The Clarice, University of Maryland – 8270 Alumni Drive in College Park, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 405-2787, or go online.