NEW YORK (AP) — It's possible that some aspects of women's liberation weren't really so liberating, after all, as Wendy Wasserstein dared to suggest in her 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Heidi Chronicles."
Her wry, compassionate look at seminal societal changes from 1965 to 1989 is reflected through the privileged prism of a few extremely articulate, Ivy-educated Baby Boomers. The original Broadway production garnered Wasserstein, who died in 2005, the first Tony awarded to a female playwright.
Through a gently comical presentation of Sixties' feminism through 1980s "post-feminism," Wasserstein posits that the women's movement provided women with new, confusing goals, like achieving equality with men, having a fulfilling career and finding personal happiness, while they remained yoked to the old goals of marriage and raising children.
Elisabeth Moss is a luminous, quizzical Heidi in the stylish revival that opened Thursday night on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, with Bryce Pinkham and Jason Biggs giving depth to two important men in Heidi's life. Director Pam MacKinnon moves the cast with assurance through each flashback showing Heidi's conflicted idealism and indecision, as the ensemble adeptly delivers Wasserstein's dialogue, which crackles with wit, ironies and pointed social commentary.
Successful art historian Heidi watches and questions as her ambitious friends evolve much more purposefully than she does, starting with a charmingly awkward 1965 prep-school dance. On wonderfully detailed sets by John Lee Beatty, as Heidi and her friends progress through the most turbulent decades of American history, Moss remains bemused and purposefully remote. She beautifully conveys Heidi's intelligence, emotional fragility, ambivalence and resilience.
Moss, best known as ambitious copywriter Peggy on "Mad Men," particularly resonates when Heidi has a weepy near-breakdown during a prep-school alumni speech, set in 1986, because she unhappily finds herself envying other women, feeling stranded, and wondering why women no longer seem to be "all in this together."
Pinkham is completely captivating, giving a nuanced portrayal of Heidi's longtime close friend Peter Patrone, a liberal, caustic, gay pediatrician. Biggs is personable enough to create some appeal for obnoxious, cocksure journalist Scoop Rosenbaum, whom Heidi falls hopelessly in love with, then keeps as a friend despite his infidelities and endless bombastic pronouncements.
A sprightly Ali Ahn adds diversity as Heidi's best friend Susan, who morphs from a feminist sheperdess to a powerful, if shallow, television producer. In a clever power-restaurant scene set in 1984, we see their diverging paths, as Heidi wistfully asks Susan, "Do you ever think what makes you a person is also what keeps you from being a person?" and Susan replies blithely, "By now I've been so many people, I don't know who I am. And I don't care."
While we get the message that friends can make the best family, the denouement feels contrived, a little out of synch with the complex interactions that precede it. Twenty-six years after this play was written, Heidi's idealistic quest for fulfillment remains relevant, as does Wasserstein's incisive reminder of how hard it is to really change the world.