Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

The Heidi Chronicles ring true 30 years later

It’s 1965 and a group of teenage girls line the wall of a Chicago high school auditorium while ogling the guy who can smoke and do the twist at the same time.

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.

The play follows Heidi’s journey “as she struggles to find her worth, her value in life,” Monteith says.

“I’m constantly amazed how little has changed,” she adds of Wendy Wasserstein’s autobiographical story. “This is a big window into that struggle, that conversation.”

Monteith, who has a child, says the conversation about “staying at home or having a job” continues to dog women as there are no easy answers.

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.

“I love how generous she is with the characters,” Prest says, especially the love interest Scoop, who disappoints her. “She could slay him, but she doesn’t.”

Music is key throughout the piece and Wasserstein, who died in 2006, was very specific about the song list as it reflects the story line.

The opening scene at the high school dance is accompanied by “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss),” with Betty Everett warbling about how to find out if a man loves you.

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.”

Later, in 1970, Heidi attends a conscious-raising meeting with her friend Susan while Aretha Franklin belts out “Respect.” “This is the birth of her becoming a feminist,” says Monteith.

In 1977, Heidi’s at a wedding where Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” plays. (It’s also the song Heidi croons over her daughter at the end of the play.)

“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 song takes you back to that moment of huge significance in your life,” Monteith says. “It’s a physical response.”

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,

Monteith has the last word on this new production: “For me, the play is about addressing the question of how to stay true to who you are when everyone around you wants you to be different.”

Soulpepper Theatre’s The Heidi Chronicles is at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, until June 18. Go to soulpepper.ca for tickets.


None found.