Episodic Memory

Rider University delves into ‘The Heidi Chronicles.’

By: Stuart Duncan
   The Heidi Chronicles is generally acknowledged to be Wendy Wasserstein’s finest play. Personally I like The Sisters Rosensweig for its masterful use of humor to establish its serious points, but since Heidi won the Pulitzer, the Tony and virtually every other award in 1989, one cannot argue too much. The play opened off-Broadway in mid-December of 1988 and played to three months of sold-out houses before moving to Broadway. Certainly the work is, in good measure, biographical. Wasserstein herself explains that she was 35, had just written a screenplay for Steven Spielberg that didn’t work out, was unmarried and "felt like the odd man out at baby showers." Her solution was to write The Heidi Chronicles, which is now on view at Rider University’s Yvonne Theatre.
   Rider Director RaeAnn Banker has opted to stage the play as a sort of episodic memory exercise of the ’70s and ’80s, using ever-changing slides of the era on three screens as a backdrop to the action. On the plus side, it emphasizes the feminist aspects of both the era and the play; on the negative, it detracts from Wasserstein’s onstage characters.
   When the play first opened, there was some critical quibbling about some of the characters being wishy-washy as well as some confusion that serious issues were confused with comedic thrusts. Today we realize that was Wasserstein’s style and particular genius. In this production, however, the males come across the footlights as stronger than the females, and clearly that was not the playwright’s intention. Danny Lane, who plays Peter Patrone, the homosexual pediatrician, and Joe Sabatino, who plays the self-important Scoop Rosenbaum, steal every scene in which they appear.
   In fact by Act 2 they team up to keep Heidi (played by Kerry Bowers) virtually mute in a scene in which all three are on a television program. One is expected to feel pathos for the poor girl, but instead one feels anger at the two boys and starts to wonder exactly what she saw in either of them.
   The evening is staged with simplicity — a few boxes and a chair or two — perfect for a show that skips through the years, from place to place, city to city. That puts the pressure on the acting company and, once again, Rider shows that it has talent all over the place.
The Heidi Chronicles continues at the Yvonne Theater Fine Arts Building, Rider University, Route 206, Lawrence April 20, 21, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10, $5 seniors/students; 609-896-5303.