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The Heidi Chronicles

October 10th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Just went to see The Heidi Chronicles at the Eldred Theater at Case.  I enjoyed the show, though it continued a recent pattern for me of finding myself strangely at odds with shows that are “realistic” in nature.


This was the first time I’d been to the Eldred despite my desire to go to many of the performances that the Department of Theater and Dance puts up—some of them very good shows (How I Learned to Drive, Rhinoceros, etc).  It was a pleasant little theater with a proscenium stage.  The set was very plainly done with the whole cast formally and stiffly moving things about.  The plain backdrop hid the ability to light from behind various actors and actresses in silhouetted poses and period dress.

After the first scene or two I found myself saying (to myself) I’m going to hate this play.  But by the time Heidi’s meltdown speech at her former girl’s school I found myself very much enjoying it as I think Wasserstein does an excellent job handling the nuanced pain of her character and the sacrifices that she has made to earn her success.

The play is episodic as it skips through time highlighting trends in American culture as they impact or relate to women, with Heidi as the litmus test or case study of the intelligent, successful woman dealing with a still male-directed and dominated society. The production did a good job using costume (Cleveland Play House — which reminds me of the moving job that they’ve got coming for them) and crashing sound score montages of music and the speeches of key political and cultural figures.  Wasserstein deftly handles her characters, though, so the episodes don’t feel episodic and the pacing and flow of the play works—I contrast this with, say, Freakshow, which I saw at convergence, which despite very competent direction, still seemed choppy and seems that way even in the reading.  Kathryn Metzger did an outstanding job as Heidi.  Metzger had poise and her facial expressions alone carried a complexity of emotion that was impressive.  She was supported very well by both Andrew Lund (Peter) and Logan Stetzer (Scoop).

Despite the episodic nature: the mix of time, the mashed-up sound score, and some interesting scene changes and set dynamics, the play seemed too much in the realm of realism for my taste.  Having just read both Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Fences, I’m about full-up with realism in the theater.  I’m also working on two pieces now (and thinking about a third) that have the potential for realistic tendencies, which I’m trying like hell to avoid.  LBL opened up for me a new way of writing and thinking spatially and I don’t want to lose that to habits.  But moreso, I don’t want to lose that thing that is most vital to theater—its three dimensional, special, transgressive ability—and by that I mean the penetration of the fourth wall and the involvement of audience, not the passive recliner based approach to theater.

Ionesco writes,

“Why could I not accept theatrical reality? Why did its truth appear false to me? And why did the false seem to want to parade as true, substitute for truth?…[The actor’s] material presence destroyed the fiction. It was as though there were present two levels of reality, the concrete reality, impoverished, empty, limited, of these banal living men, moving and speaking upon the stage, and the reality of the imagination. And these two realities faced each other, unmasked, irreconcilable: two antagonistic universes which could not succeed in unifying and blending.” (Ionesco and Pronko 4)

I think I have finally come to understand what so upset Ionesco and am coming to understand what makes metatheatricality so important and a hyperreal or absurd or fantastic approach to theater equally important: the alternative is “impoverished, empty, and limited.”  There is something about the “two realities” facing each other that just shows the staged reality to be a thin grey thing…or, as Sylvia Plath might say, "They are always with us, the thin people / Meager of dimension as the gray people / on a movie screen. They / are unreal, we say."  As I read August Wilson it became almost unbearable, imaging these scenes playing out on stage; the unbearable unreal reality of it, like a scab that you mustn’t pick, and yet your fingers keep on sidling over to it.

Regardless, despite my conflicted feelings about realistic plays right now, I found Heidi to be enjoyable and the Case actors did a wonderful job.

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