Review Roundup: THE HEIDI CHRONICLES Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The first Broadway revival of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Wendy Wasserstein play The Heidi Chronicles officially opens tonight, March 19, 2015, at the Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street).
The show stars Golden Globe-winner and six-time Emmy Award-nominee Elisabeth Moss in the title role, with Emmy nominee Jason Biggs and Tony nominee Bryce Pinkham co-starring.
The Heidi Chronicles is the poignant coming-of-age story of three iconic decades of American culture: the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Through Heidi Holland, now a successful art historian, Wendy Wasserstein looks back on the promises of a generation in the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning work that established her voice in the canon of quintessential theater forever. In its first Broadway revival, a bold reimagining led by Tony Award-winning director Pam MacKinnon, The Heidi Chronicles charts 19 characters through 13 scenes in 3 decades and 4 cities, as three unlikely friends come to realize that the fight for what you believe in can bring you a long way... maybe.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Ms. Moss, a superb actor who possesses an unusual ability to project innocence and smarts at the same time, inherits a role played by many since Joan Allen originated it...Fortunately, under the direction of Pam MacKinnon and in the hands of a fine supporting cast, notably Jason Biggs and Bryce Pinkham as the men in (and largely out) of Heidi's life, the play's humor retains its buoyancy, even when the specific matters at hand [...] have acquired the distancing patina of textbook history...For me, the moving heart of "The Heidi Chronicles" remains the wonderful monologue in the second act. Heidi is speaking at a gathering of her high school alumnae, but instead of the usual manicured, upbeat speech, she delivers an off-the-cuff, emotionally exposed anecdote. It's really a play in itself, about the sense of alienation she felt that day from other women in a gym locker room: women she respects and admires, in some senses, but whose choices to pursue life's more superficial rewards leave her feeling "stranded." Ms. Moss, her eyes moistening even as her voice remains strong, delivers this beautiful speech with a grace that grows stronger as Heidi's peppery, self-aware humor gives way to lacerating honesty. Those are, as it happens, key notes in Wasserstein's durable play, and Ms. Moss and her collaborators in this sterling production sing them forth with a revitalizing warmth.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles has always been backward-looking: It traces the journey of its heroine, feminist art historian Heidi Holland (Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss), through nearly 25 years of American cultural shifts, from the idealism of the 1960s through the self-centeredness of the late 1980s. The play's first Broadway revival, directed by Pam MacKinnon, offers consistent (if mild) good humor in its survey of the challenges faced by door-opening women like Heidi: "Interesting, exemplary, even sexy, but basically unhappy," as her boorishly savvy ex-boyfriend Scoop (American Pie's Jason Biggs) describes them. Now that we are 25 years away from the play's once-current finale, however, the pulse on which Wasserstein had her finger sounds fainter
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: ...the talented Elisabeth Moss, who stars as pugnacious Peggy Olson on "Mad Men" and now headlines this Broadway revival. But the role is tough, and Moss is still working on her own potential as an actress...For Moss, who works most effectively in small brush strokes, the challenge is carrying a show that demands a leading lady who can, well, lead...Both Pinkham and Biggs are very good at suggesting how these men change over the years, and Biggs (the spineless fiancé of "Orange Is the New Black") even seems to fill out as his character gets older and more successful...The irreplaceable Tracee Chimo ("Bad Jews") also shines in four supporting roles...Pam MacKinnon's production sands off whatever edge there was to the play - and Wasserstein wasn't an edgy writer. And while the nostalgic element was there even in the '80s, it's pushed even further now, as we listen to "We Got the Beat" and watch projections of newspaper headlines about Geraldine Ferraro. It's all very nice, but was feminism ever supposed to be nice?
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: I was struck by how poorly "The Heidi Chronicles" had aged when I saw the Berkshire Theatre Festival's excellent 2006 production, and the new Broadway revival, directed by Pam MacKinnon and starring Elisabeth Moss, soon to be formerly of "Mad Men," fails to make a compelling case for taking Wasserstein's best-remembered play any more seriously today...Ms. MacKinnon's staging is as flabby as the long-winded script, and the chirpy, cherry Ms. Moss is no more convincing as a feminist academic than she was playing Madonna's part in the 2008 Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow." Of the supporting actors, Tracee Chimo assumes four widely varied roles with switchblade-sharp comic definition. Sheshould have been cast as Heidi.
Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: Elisabeth Moss is a luminous, quizzical Heidi in the stylish revival that opened Thursday night on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, with Bryce Pinkham and Jason Biggs giving depth to two important men in Heidi's life. Director Pam MacKinnon moves the cast with assurance through each flashback showing Heidi's conflicted idealism and indecision, as the ensemble adeptly delivers Wasserstein's dialogue, which crackles with wit, ironies and pointed social commentary...Pinkham is completely captivating, giving a nuanced portrayal of Heidi's longtime close friend Peter Patrone...
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Twenty-six years later, in director Pam MacKinnon's sensitive, impassioned new production (***1/2 out of four stars), Heidi's struggles can still seem dishearteningly familiar...The excellent company MacKinnon has assembled reminds us that Wasserstein's dialogue can be as funny as it is unsettling. Jason Biggs, of Orange Is the New Blackand American Pie fame, mines the arrogance of Scoop Rosenbaum, Heidi's aforementioned flame and foil, with delicious wit. As Heidi's more reliable confidante, the deeply compassionate but sometimes caustic Peter Patrone, rising stage star Bryce Pinkham delivers the show's breakout performance.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: ...it was a savvy idea to cast Moss as Heidi in director Pam MacKinnon's mostly faithful, mostly pleasurable, sometimes frustrating revival of a play...Moss' performance focuses on Heidi's reticence, her inclination to stand back and observe, her disdain for conflict. All are part of Heidi, but this sometimes comes at the expense of the requisite backbone of steel that Joan Allen brought to the role when I first saw this show on Broadway in 1989 (it ran for more than 600 performances). In some ways, MacKinnon's production, aided by the charm of the actor, makes Scoop overly sympathetic and too much in control, when we need to see more of Heidi constantly matching his intelligence and his vivacity while exceeding his morality. On the other hand, Pinkham's Peter is a tad too much in the other direction, too detached, a bit unfeeling. And that means we don't fully see the relationship that might have been - in Heidi's head, at least.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Wendy Wasserstein's 1988 play "The Heidi Chronicles" was originally a bracing wakeup call about women's evolving lives. The Broadway revival is far less stirring...Chalk that up to the passage of time and a middling performance by "Mad Men" star Elisabeth Moss...In its day, the play, which began Off-Broadway before transferring to Broadway and winning a Pulitzer and a Tony, was a heady blast of fresh feminist-themed consciousness-raising. Its landmark status is intact, but its impact has been blunted by the years: Such topics are now everywhere on stage, film, TV and even in Patricia Arquette's Oscar acceptance speech...Pam MacKinnon's direction is heavy-handed and lacks nuance...Worse, the characters are one-dimensional, so often we feel as if we're not watching people, but caricatures...Moss gives a capable if starchy performance. The actress is at her best when onstage alone, addressing students jokingly during a class, and woundedly during a speech. But it's a rare moment when Heidi and her chronicles come fully alive.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: A shoddy production can't dim the lights of this long-overdue revival of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, "The Heidi Chronicles." On the page (and from recollections of previous productions), this 1989 play is the writer's bittersweet valentine to her generation of educated baby boomers who embraced the 1970s women's emancipation movement with gusto. Elisabeth Moss (waving goodbye to "Mad Men") is effortlessly endearing - and wonderfully real - as the brainy, mixed-up heroine, and the thesps playing her male friends pass muster. But, under the direction of Pam MacKinnon, Heidi's girlfriends are an embarrassment.
Ronni Reich, The Star-Ledger: The timing is just right to examine the legacy of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a woman who dreams of a life without "either/or": not career or family, not radical feminism or patriarchy - choices she has been expected to make...Pam McKinnon directs the vividly realized first Broadway revival of Wasserstein's chronicle of life in the 60s, 70s and 80s, with Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men" as art historian Heidi...As Heidi navigates a rapidly changing culture, Moss is mesmerizing, natural and exceptionally expressive. Her slight stiffness in certain social situations gives way to radiance when she speaks about the artists she champions, and she nails the character's wry humor
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: ...Wasserstein clearly sees TV as a big sell-out for her lead character, a revered art historian teaching at Columbia University. So why has Pam MacKinnon directed most of the supporting players around Moss as if they're on a 1980's sitcom? This approach might have worked on Broadway years ago, but in 2015 cable TV turns out far edgier fare on a weekly basis than the theater, on or off Broadway...Moss succeeds in making Heidi's dilemma vivid and crucial, even though here's an art history major who gets tons of grants, can pick between teaching at Columbia or Carleton College, and is offered a TV gig that she never pitched and rejects because it's too insignificant in light of her research on female artists of the 18th Century...Wasserstein must have known she'd turned her heroine into a whiner...
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: I think Elisabeth Moss was born to play Heidi Holland on Broadway. She couldn't possibly have had better preparation than her role as Peggy Olson...Pam MacKinnon (just off the revival of A Delicate Balance) has staged the play with a light touch, a very good thing, and she is well served by the three stars. Moss wears vulnerability and determination with equal appeal; Biggs tops his terrific performance on Orange Is The New Black in subtlety and humor; and Pinkham has catching warmth as the caring doc. Jessica Pabst's costumes are perfect and Japhy Weideman's lighting provides much of the atmosphere otherwise absent from John Lee Beatty's uncharacteristically sterile sets.
Linda Winer, Newsday: This is still a witty, vibrant, wonderful play, directed with layers of wisdom and an embraceable aversion to cartoon by Pam MacKinnon. Twenty-seven years after its opening, the time-traveling, way-we-were play about the '60s, '70s and '80s stands boldly up to hindsight and diminishment by far too many pop-sociology TV shows...Moss, best known through the consciousness evolution of Peggy Olson in "Mad Men," holds center stage as Heidi...Jason Biggs is entirely believable, and totally infuriating, as Scoop, the boyfriend whose infantile need to grade everything is perfect for the editor of a lifestyle magazine. Bryce Pinkham endearingly balances the sardonic with the tragic as her best friend, the gay doctor."
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A collage of generational experience that's stronger on cumulative rewards than scene-to-scene conflict, the play limits access to Heidi's inner life for much of its excessive 2-hour, 40 minute running time. And Moss' opaque performance contributes to keep her at a distance. So it's a testament to theMad Men star's appeal that she's ultimately so affecting in the role - even if the emotional rush is a long time coming. She's the main reason to see director Pam MacKinnon's mixed bag of a revival, though it nonetheless reaffirms the merits of Wasserstein's Pulitzer- and Tony-winning 1988 play, which remains smart and funny, tender and big-hearted...Biggs manages to make a manipulative, self-serving philanderer oddly likeable, which is crucial to Heidi's enduring affection for him, and Pinkham (A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder) tosses off Peter's bon mots with genial aplomb...
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Pam MacKinnon ("A Delicate Balance") snappily steers a story that tracks Heidi Holland, a stand-in for the playwright, from her high school years through adulthood...Moss is an excellent actress with an accessible warmth. The discussions Heidi has with the friends in her life, about how trapped they are by gender roles, have an air of familiarity -- I think about all the women in my own life, and it's easy to imagine many of these conflicts still playing out. The biggest surprise here is Bryce Pinkham, the charismatic actor who originated the title role in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" and who is just marvelous as Peter, Wendy's gay confidante..."The Heidi Chronicles" never feels like a time capsule memento. The subject matter is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.
David Finkle, Huffington Post: It occurs to me that because it's now 2015, some theatergoers will think Wasserstein's vision of a particular past quarter-century is now dated. If so, they're confusing the concept of "dated" with the concept of indelibly recreating a specific date, time and place. The late and very much missed Wasserstein has impeccably done the latter.
Roma Torre, NY1: Though dated, and at more than two and a half hours, overwritten, "The Heidi Chronicles" under Pam MacKinnon's thoughtful direction remains an invaluable work reminding us how far we've truly come.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: It's hard to discern such nuances, however, when Moss' deliberate portrayal is blown off the stage by her co-stars' more vibrant work. It's true that they have most of the amusing lines and better-defined characters, but Pinkham, in particular, gives a richly hilarious - and also rather touching - performance, while Biggs (who grew up in Hasbrouck Heights) provides a telling portrayal of a raging narcissist.
Alexis Soloski, Guardian: The play's politics seem retrograde, but maybe there's some comfort in that. In the final scene, Heidi offers some hopes for her adopted daughter, that if she ever meets a man like Scoop, "he'll never tell her it's either/or baby. And she'll never think she's worthless unless he lets her have it all. And maybe, just maybe, things will be a little better." And from the vantage of 2015, things do seem better. If only a little. Where's the play about that?
Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly: Even though this revival is clumsy about the past, its view of the future has aged well. At one point, Scoop describes Heidi's generation as "disappointed women-interesting, exemplary, even sexy, but basically unhappy." By the play's end, she's not so pessimistic. "Maybe things will be a little bit better," she says, as she holds her newborn daughter. "So, yes, that does make me happy." If The Heidi Chronicles doesn't always translate for the 21st century, maybe we should be happy, too. Isn't that a sign that some things have gotten better? B+
Jesse Green, Vulture: This is Wasserstein at her most trenchant, offering the kind of observation that earned The Heidi Chronicles both the Tony award and the Pulitzer Prize. I can't think either was for the dramaturgy; even when Heidi relents, describing her emotional dependence on unavailable men, she somehow remains aloof and maddeningly resistant to change. Meanwhile, everyone else, whom we drop in on less frequently, seems to change like crazy, in scenes (I almost said sketches) written so broadly they now seem dated. At least two of them - the rap-group meeting as well as an inane panel discussion in 1982 - have the stock setups and bright satirical tone of early Saturday Night Live, only instead of Gilda Radner we have Tracee Chimo.
Photo by Joan Marcus