Theater’s most-heralded angst-ridden art-history professor is back in the Washington, D.C., Arena Stage’s revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s feminist opus The Heidi Chronicles.
Ellen Karas plays the title role of a woman who, despite professional success, is dogged by an unhappy and unfulfilling personal life, made all the more complicated by the two men in her life: Peter Patrone, a gay pediatrician/confidant (Wynn Harmon), and Scoop Rosenbaum (Marty Lodge), Heidi’s more off-again than on-again ”charming creep” of a love interest. Along the way, she is besieged at every turn by warring factions of womanhood. (”You either shave your legs or you don’t!” she is told repeatedly.)
Heidi Holland’s life-long identity crisis is by turns funny, provocative, and poignant, but it’s also blunted by two-dimensional and uneven supporting characters. Karas hits her high point at the end of Act I, when Heidi breaks down in Scoop’s arms upon realizing that the man she loves has just married another woman. But there’s very little groundwork laid to convince us that Scoop is worth all the fuss. Perhaps that’s why Heidi’s so miserable: She hasn’t an equal in sight.
Whether you find Heidi’s tortured but humorous 25-year journey toward self-discovery enlightening or irritating, director Tazewell Thompson offers a faithful restaging of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play. But the final product may have benefited from a little more artistic license. Heidi may have been groundbreaking in 1988 for its portrayal of the neo-feminist tug-of-war between independence and loneliness, but nearly 20 years and several Ally McBeals, Bridget Joneses, and Carrie Bradshaws later, that trail seems well blazed. And though the play derives much of its voice and humor from its satiric take on the ’60s and ’70s, now it feels dated. Case in point: does any play need a joke about ex-Carter budget chief Bert Lance, let alone two? Today’s Heidi seems every bit a play from the past as it is about the past. B- (Tickets: arenastage.org)