If Wendy Wasserstein had lived beyond her 56 years, would she have written a sequel to “The Heidi Chronicles,” a revival of which opened Thursday at the Music Box on Broadway? The lasting power of this 1988 play is that, more than ever, we really want to know what happens to the girl Heidi Holland (Elisabeth Moss) adopts at the end of “Chronicles.” In 1988, she was just a baby. Today, she would be a 27-year-old woman.
So the question looms: Would this baby grow up to be the confidently happy person Heidi never quite becomes? Or would Heidi, enduring yet another sea-change in women’s consciousness, watch her daughter outgrow a Disney tiara only to go into debt to Manolo Blahnik after bingeing on “Sex and the City”?
The “Sex and the City” comment isn’t flip. In act two of Wasserstein’s play, Heidi is asked to be a consultant on a TV pilot about a group of professional women who live in a loft. OK, the city is not Manhattan; it’s Houston, Texas, which is supposed to be a joke. But you get the idea. “Sex” arrived on TV a decade after “Heidi” first opened, and it’s very possible that Heidi’s daughter would have learned more about being a modern woman from HBO than Heidi herself. Would Heidi have then regretted not taking the TV job?
When a female exec (Ali Ahn) offers Heidi that gig, 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.
More TV bashing comes in the preceding scene wherein the two most important men in Heidi’s life — a gay best friend (Bryce Pinkham) and an ex-boyfriend (Jason Biggs) — shout her down during an on-camera interview hosted by a crass reporter (Tracee Chimo).
Heidi is pretty much mute in these two crucial scenes, which lead to her emotional breakdown in a speech to a women’s group. 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, because late in act two the gay guy tells Heidi he wishes he had the “luxury” of her problems in the wake of the AIDS crisis, which has nearly eliminated his “family” of friends.
Heidi feels she lacks confidence because something her mother didn’t tell her, something that mothers routinely told their sons back in the 1960s. Here’s what mothers told those sons, “Follow the money and don’t major in art history.”
Who knows what became of Heidi’s baby? But as for Heidi herself, now at retirement age in 2015, she definitely regrets not taking that TV job.