LU theatre presents Wasserstein classic
“What is it all for?” Scoop Rosenbaum asks Heidi Holland, the titular character in Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles.” At face value these five words pose a simple question but in reality, those five words contain a multitude of complexities.
As we follow Heidi’s relationships and friendships over the course of a quarter century, from 1964 to 1989, we see the characters embody the era’s politics, gender roles, feminism and just the act of growing up — some with more success than others.
“The Heidi Chronicles” is presented by Lamar University’s department of theatre and dance, Feb. 23-26 in the University Theatre. It is a credit to director Alan Brinks that the young actors do an excellent job embodying the philosophical questions presented in the play.
Juliana McManus anchors the fine ensemble as Dr. Heidi Holland, an art historian with an emphasis on the overlooked women painters. Although this play was written in 1988, it is only in the past five years that female representation in art history in general has begun to intrude on the traditional male landscape in museums.
Heidi seems permanently an outsider, doggedly sticking to her path as her friend circle around her, experimenting and moving with the times.
Wasserstein’s writing is sharp and witty, and it is certainly a comedy, although being richer for the penetrating intellectual questions that permeate the show. It is not necessary to be an art historian to get some of the jokes, but when Peter sneers, “Judy Chicago for dinner,” I had to giggle (look it up).
Kalan Bonnette is excellent as the intellectual, self-confident and somewhat narcissistic Scoop, Heidi’s some-time love interest and long-time friend. As Heidi says, he may be a prick, but he is a charismatic prick. Is that enough to make him sympathetic? That’s one of the questions we must answer for ourselves.
Josue Carrizel plays Peter, who has been Heidi’s friend since high school in Chicago. He ends up as a successful pediatrician. Peter is gay and anyone familiar with the 1980s immediately fears for his welfare. But Wasserstein is not interested in artificial sentimentality and touches on the AIDS crisis tangentially but with poignancy.
Daisy Obregon turns in another stellar turn as Susan Johnston, Heidi’s best female friend. Her character goes through the most during the play, from lusty teen to Hollywood TV executive and everything in-between. She is the proactive counterpoint to Heidi’s conservative life choices (although Heidi is certainly liberal in politics).
The rest of the cast play multiple parts and seamlessly move in an out of the scenes. Kaylee Lambert is particularly affecting as the breakfast show interviewer in a painfully hilarious scene where Scoop and Peter “mansplain” and interrupt Heidi at every turn, who is then asked why she didn’t say anything?
Costume designer Tanner McAlpin has fun playing with the time periods, but keen watchers will notice the color palette that changes through the scenes.
Wasserstein’s script earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1989, as well as a Tony Award for best play. But as great as the writing is, the actors must understand the context. Kudos to the young cast for their mature performances.
“What is it all for?” Maybe figuring out the question is the only answer. But it’s fun following Heidi and her friends as they try to figure it out.
Showtimes for are 7:30 p.m., Feb. 25, and 2 p.m., Feb. 26. For tickets, visit lamar.edu/lutdtix.