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Heidi Holland is 16 and venturing into the world of love, independence and self-discovery in the opening scenes of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles. It’s been almost 30 years since the feminist work first wowed audiences, but it’s no museum piece, says Michelle Monteith, who is starring in the Soulpepper Theatre production that opens May 24.
Chock full of humour, there are jokes in the play that resonate today. For example, a Canadian character names his children Maggie and Pierre, after the then-prime minister and his wife. Sarcastic pals quip about “Three Mile Island Spa” and “women and bran” stories dished up for female audiences.
Prest points out that the girls are passive, waiting to be asked to dance, waiting to be picked or kissed. Monteith laughs at the portrayal of young girls as “boy crazy.” This is the scene where Heidi meets friend Peter.
Heidi attends a mixer for Democratic candidate Eugene McCarthy as she becomes politically aware and meets Scoop, the man with whom she has a lifelong complicated relationship. Janis Joplin and the Holding Company rip through a “Piece of My Heart.”
“I think ‘You Send Me’ is the most romantic song ever written or recorded, and in the play it happens at a very difficult time for Heidi,” says Prest. “It’s first played in the show in a romantic and heartbreaking scene.”
The last song is John Lennon’s poignant “Imagine” during a baby shower when Heidi comes from a Central Park memorial for the slain singer. While the women discuss baby competitiveness, such as getting into the right kindergarten, there’s an underlay of infidelity, growing up and dealing with death.
The play premiered on Broadway in 1988 with Joan Allen (Bourne Identity) as Heidi and Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) as one of her friends. It was recently revived on Broadway with Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) as Heidi.
The last time it was in Toronto was in 1990 in a joint Manitoba Theatre-Mirvish production featuring Nancy Palk as Heidi and Joseph Ziegler as Peter; both now part of Soulpepper’s core team. The two are married.
“What I keep with me from playing Heidi is sometimes when I feel on the outside of situation, looking in as an observer, I call them my ‘Heidi moments,’” Palk says,