A Comprehensive Account of One of the Most Important and Popular American Plays of the 1980s.
The Heidi Chronicles is a feminist play written by Wendy Wasserstein. It’s original Broadway run occurred in 1989 and it became a cultural sensation. The play was originally mounted Off-Broadway in 1988, but its resounding success led it to cross over. Rather than an official page, this is a page dedicated to the amazing piece of theatre that is The Heidi Chronicles; feminist, political, dramatic, funny, and highly entertaining, The Heidi Chronicles is one of the best plays that emerged from the United States of America in the 1980s.
The play was adapted into a TV movie in 1996 and a Broadway revival was produced in 2015. Although the revival wasn’t a box office success, the film was very well-received, winning an Emmy and several award nominations.
The plot of The Heidi Chronicles is a wild one; it takes over twenty years to fully unfold. We see the story of the play's main character- Heidi Holland- begin when she is still in high school. The play begins in the 1960s, moving through the 70s and ending in the 1980s. Although we are led to follow the character of Heidi, a strong female character, we are also exposed to the social movement of feminism through these years, as the play comprehensively explores the character’s relationship with this particular phenomenon.
This is not the official site for The Heidi Chronicles. This is a site devoted to maintaining and documenting the wonderfully written, hugely important, and ever-evolving legacy of Wendy Wasserman’s Heidi Chronicles.
For the 1989 run, Boyd Gaines won his first of many Tony awards, winning Best Actor for his portrayal of Peter Patrone, while Joan Allen was celebrated widely for her characterization of the title character, Heidi. The play also featured Peter Friedman as Scoop. When it was still off-Broadway, Sarah Jessica Parker played three small roles in the play, but those parts were assumed by Cynthia Nixon when the play transferred to Broadway.
The play, written by a woman, features a cast of characters who are mostly women. Two males, however, play very prominent roles: Peter Patrone and Scoop Rosenbaum. Scoop is Heidi’s main love interest, at one point, and after they make an attempt at romance, they become good friends who still maintain an insatiable chemistry. Heidi, a strong feminist, does not have any interest in marrying, and knows that she can be a mother by her own volition, rather than depending on a man; with this in mind, Heidi adopts a child.
Major themes in this groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize & Tony Award-winning play include feminism, the roles of men and women in society, the shifting American political and social landscape, and the redefinition of motherhood. Basically, the play follows one strong feminist and her group of confidantes- a diverse array of males and females of various orientations- and watch how they respond to the massive American culture shift that occurred between the 1960s and the 1980s-- expressing that shift from the perspective of those in the center of American culture. The themes are personal, professional, and societal.
In 1995, Paul Bogart directed a made-for-tv film adaptation of The Heidi Chronicles, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Hulce, Kim Cattrall, and Peter Friedman. Tom Hulce won the Oscar for “Best Actor in a Miniseries or movie” and the film was nominated for “Outstanding Made for Television Movie” as well as three Golden Globe awards.
The play received a Broadway revival in 2015, with Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss gaining a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Heidi. The revival was staged at the Music Box Theatre, and featured Bryce Pinkham, Jason Biggs, and the direction of Pam MacKinnon; although the play was slated for a five-month run, it closed after just one and a half months as it was not particularly well-received by critics or audiences, which resulted in low box office returns.
The play made its Off-Broadway debut at Playwrights Horizon in November of 1988. After 99 performances, it closed in February so that it could open on Broadway on March 9, 1989, with (mostly) the same cast of players. The Broadway production took place at the Plymouth Theatre- a Broadway staple opened in 1918, with an audience capacity of 1080 people. After 622 showings, the play closed after a 19-month, 622 performance run.
After Wasserstein died in January 2006, the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, produced a highly-regarded adaptation of the play on their main stage later that same year, through August and September. In 2007, Wendy Wasserstein received posthumous induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
In 2011, the English Theatre of Rome produced a critically-acclaimed produced at Teatro dell’Arciliuto.
The 2015 Revival at the Music Box Theatre- opened in 1921 with a 1,009 audience capacity- was largely considered to be a major disappointment. Although the performance of Elizabeth Moss was lauded, the run was short-lived and critics were not impressed. The 80-performance run was considerably shorter than producers had expected the play to be a feature on the Music Box stage.
The relative failure of the 2015 Broadway Revival has been attributed to several factors; some blame the specific production, while some believe the depiction of feminism in the play itself has become outdated. Indeed, Broadway League informs us that the show never managed to fill more than 75% of its potential audience in any given week, and in some weeks the theatre hardly managed to get to half of its capacity.
The New York Times, as well as many other major papers, speculated about the play’s lack of relevance on modern-day Feminism, highlighting how much the feminist movement had changed since the time which Wasserstein was writing her most significant theatrical work. Meanwhile, publications like The Nation remarked that the play does not even pass the “Bechdel Test,” a feminist construct used to determine whether a script has relative sexual bias, or not, based on the genders of characters and how often women speak about topics other than their male romantic interests.
Still, many attributed the failure of the play’s revival to the direction of that specific production, rather than the script itself. Publications like IndieWire, and many other critics, argued that The Heidi Chronicles remains relevant in the modern world, despite the immense change in America’s socio-political landscape.
Regardless, The Heidi Chronicles remains in an elite, exclusive class of plays to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Although Wendy Wasserstein has never struggled to be a prolific and well-received writer, The Heidi Chronicles stands as a monument to her greatest success as a writer. Trained in playwriting at Yale, her graduate thesis- Uncommon Women and Others- was produced Off-Broadway in 1977 and featured the acting prowess of Glenn Close. Eventually, the play was given a PBS adaptation, which saw Meryl Streep play the role which Glenn Close had played.
The script for The Heidi Chronicles, which was produced Off-Broadway in 1988 and transferred to Broadway the next year, won a Tony Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She has also received a New York Drama Circles Award, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award.
She is a highly regarded feminist writer, and her writing also offers a critical commentary on pop culture, identity, and family dynamics. Other plays of note include Isn’t It Romantic, An American Daughter, and Old Money. In terms of the big screen, her script for The Object of My Affection was produced in 1998 and featured Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in the starring roles.
Although the lack of success of the 2015 Broadway Revival has stimulated dialogue and brought questions regarding the relevance of this play in the modern day, but there is no denying the massive cultural impact which this play had on American society in the late 1980s, offering a critic, concise, humorous, and emotional critique on the status quo.
Wendy Wasserstein died of lymphoma in January of 2006. She was 55 years old.
Her final play, Third, was produced Off-Broadway in 2005. Her legacy includes five published books, an essay published in The New Yorker, a position as a Professor-At-Large at Cornell University, and a reputation as an important and vocal feminist in late twentieth-century America. The Heidi Chronicles, however, remains her masterpiece.