Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Personal is Political (The Heidi Chronicles)

I haven't heard the phrase the personal is political in quite a while -- perhaps the mid 90s -- but it sort of sums up the essence of Wendy Wasserstein's work, particularly The Heidi Chronicles, where she looks at how women's life choices (and life chances) were still heavily constrained by a culture (and to a lesser extent a political system) that devalued their contributions.  Particularly up through the 70s and perhaps the 80s, women were mostly judged on being wives and mothers and not for their own accomplishments.  There are certainly quite a few women (and certainly a lot of global cultures -- just look at how retrograde Turkey is becoming with Erdogan saying that childless women are deficient) that still judge themselves on these terms, but this is less true than before.  At least it is less universal.  That does not mean that women today are really any more fulfilled than the Boomers that Wasserstein was writing about, and impossible demands are still being made on women, but it does feel there are more options on the table.  (I would say that most of the women my age and younger are judged on their careers first and foremost, but what is a constant is the being judged, often unfairly, whereas men are judged but perhaps not in such a one-side manner.  Just a thought.  What still hasn't changed as much is that when two careers clash, it is usually still the man's whose takes precedence, though this is not as universal as it would have been.)

At any rate, I certainly didn't feel it was a dated piece.*  I could certainly see my mother in Heidi to some degree.  I'd say that the main characters were roughly 5 years younger than my mother, but they had a fairly similar experience in terms of experiencing the feminist consciousness raising of the 70s and the materialist 80s.  It was interesting having a wide range of female characters, most of whom were more in-tune with their times than Heidi.  It was interesting that Wasserstein does show Heidi quite blase about gay rights and almost completely disconnected from the AIDS crisis that was sort of the dark shadow of the 80s and early 90s.  In the spirit of still "wanting it all," she adopts a baby in her early 40s.  What is somewhat radical about her and certainly sets her apart from most of the other women in the show is that Heidi only obsesses about one man (Scooter) and is finally able to disentangle herself from him romantically, but from that point on, her boyfriends are almost entirely incidental to her life and she never even mentions them unless pressed by Scooter.  It seems completely impossible for her to find a serious partner who will not get in the way of her career.  I guess I wouldn't characterize this as a must-see play, but I thought it was well-done and it did fill me with nostalgia for the 80s, which for me at least, were a relatively uncomplicated period in my life.

I was running late from a work obligation and had to cab it to Soulpepper.  I actually had a fairly bad headache, though it started to subside after I made it to the theatre.  I imagine it was a combination of a lot going on at work and worry that I would be late.  I saw a tall man hanging out by the box office and realized he was the actor playing the Major in Incident at Vichy.  I thought that was kind of odd, and then I saw another actor from the show.  It dawned on me somewhat later that because Incident at Vichy starts 30 minutes later than The Heidi Chronicles (and the costumes and make-up are fairly minimal) that they just had some time to kill before going backstage.

I talked very briefly with the second actor, Marcel Stewart.  He has only a very small role in Vichy, though I presume a larger role in Father Comes Home From the Wars a bit later in the season.  I said that I had seen the show and thought it was great.  We briefly talked about how most performances were sold out, which must be incredible for him and the rest of the cast.  I said how I was trying to see all the major Arthur Miller plays, and he asked if I was going to see All My Sons at Stratford.  I said probably not, since I didn't want to confuse it with a good production I had already seen (Shattered Globe in Chicago).  And this is true, though I also happen to think the casting was problematic.  I'm debating discussing what I mean in a separate post.  At any rate, I didn't mention that to Marcel and just said I was hoping A View from the Bridge turned up soon.

What I also didn't mention is that I knew his face was familiar when he came out on stage in Vichy, but I couldn't quite place it.  After some searching, I realized that he was in Dalton and Company, which I liked very much (though I only discussed the show in a perfunctory way -- perhaps some point I will get back to it, though probably not) and he had a secondary role as Agamemnon's lieutenant in a Fringe production of Agamemnon.  I'll be very interested to see what he does in Father Comes Home From the Wars, but I'd say he is definitely an actor to watch, as he was very good in Dalton and Company.

* One thing that might have gone over better when the script was new was Heidi's speech to her grammar school as a featured alumnae.  We could certainly feel her pain and uncertainty and unhappiness about being judged by other women in a gym locker room (how 80s) and judging back, but it made her look weak and diminished her, rather than making her seem forthright and speaking some important but painful truths.  But more to the point, I would have felt extremely disrespected to have heard such a meandering speech given by such an unprepared speaker (though this might be more of an issue for the staff than the kids who are generally pretty indifferent to speakers).  So that bit, I would definitely have cut or significantly reshaped.

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