Good Evening
Good Evening

'The Heidi Chronicles' review: Wonderful return of 'Heidi' and Wasserstein

Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs in "The Heidi

Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs in "The Heidi Chronicles" by Wendy Wasserstein. Credit: Joan Marcus

The sound you are hearing is relief -- a grand, happy, deep heave of relief.

"The Heidi Chronicles," Wendy Wasserstein's 1989 Pulitzer winning serious-comedy, was the first Tony winner written exclusively by a woman in the shocking history of the Tony Awards. But this first Broadway revival, impressively starring Elisabeth Moss as feminist art historian Heidi Holland, is more than just the first major look at Wasserstein's work since she died nine years ago at 55.

I am not having, as one of Heidi's ridiculously quotable friends might call it, a "sentimental spasm" about a relic close to my boomer heart. This is still a witty, vibrant, wonderful play, directed with layers of wisdom and an embraceable aversion to cartoon by Pam MacKinnon. Twenty-seven years after its opening, the time-traveling, way-we-were play about the '60s, '70s and '80s stands boldly up to hindsight and diminishment by far too many pop-sociology TV shows.

Don't let anyone call this a play about feminist history. This is a journey about women during seismic changes in expectations, about friends who become as important as family, about men -- specifically, two very different men -- who travel their own roads through decades of politics, gender wars, AIDS, careerism and the mixed messages of domesticity. I feel secure telling new generations that, yes, this is often how it really was -- except lots less funny.

This is also a beautifully crafted play, full of smarty-pants throwaway lines and shrewdly structured into a dozen scenes of far-flung locations -- acutely suggested with projections on John Lee Beatty's white tiled box set. Characters are dressed with a period-perfect lack of cliche by Jessica Pabst.

Moss, best known through the consciousness evolution of Peggy Olson in "Mad Men," holds center stage as Heidi, a woman created by Joan Allen with perhaps more allure but comparable subtlety and intelligence. As Moss shows, Heidi is the rare central character who is also an outsider, a listener, a woman in a comedy who, as Wasserstein has put it, gets sad.

Jason Biggs is entirely believable, and totally infuriating, as Scoop, the boyfriend whose infantile need to grade everything is perfect for the editor of a lifestyle magazine. Bryce Pinkham endearingly balances the sardonic with the tragic as her best friend, the gay doctor. Tracee Chimo gloriously portrays four wildly different women, while Ali Ahn plays at least as many as the friend who morphs with the winds of culture.

As Heidi teaches about women artists forgotten by history, the play makes the case for Wasserstein's place in our own

More Entertainment