When I first walked out of Salt Lake Acting Company's historic Marmalade Hill Center home, I wondered, "What's all the commotion about? Why did this play win a Pulitzer Prize?"
See, I always lumped Pulitzer with "powerhouse" and "packs a wallop," forgetting that such gentle comedies as "Harvey" and "The Teahouse of the August Moon" had also been accorded the coveted award.On the surface, Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles" has more superficiality than substance.
The play's central character, art historian Heidi Holland, whom we follow for 24 years from high school to adoptive motherhood, is very touching. She's always lightly touching on that social issue, barely touching this one, gingerly touching on another, but never confronting things complex questions as women's rights, politics and gender identity head-on.
Heidi takes an outside-looking-in stance.
And that - after pondering this beautifully crafted play a little longer - could be the very statement that Wasserstein is trying to make: That too many of us are just like Heidi. We're content to drift along, observing life from the sidelines.
Don't make waves.
While Heidi makes few waves, her friends and associates do. Her female friends are an interesting and diverse lot, but it's the two men in her life who are Wasserstein's most boldly drawn characters - Scoop, an arrogant jerk who evolves into a trend-setting publisher, and Peter, a sensitive, gay pediatrician, and the one person Heidi can safely confide in.
After the empty, wretched characters of SLAC's most recent production, "White Money," it was nice to see men and women exuding varying levels of emotion and passion.
Wasserstein's play tracks 2 1/2 decades of change for the Baby Boom generation - from a high school dance in 1965, through the political ferment of the late '60s, the consciousness-raising rap sessions of the '70s and on through the Yuppified '80s.
At weddings, in lecture halls, in protest marches, baby showers and even in The TV Talk Show From Hell, we follow Heidi and her friends through a shopping list of societal changes.
Through it all, Heidi Holland is just like the women in the paintings she lectures about - poised, cool and aloof, while life swirls on all around her.
Director Edward J. Gryska has assembled an excellent cast for this production.
Joyce Cohen is terrific as Heidi, a woman content to immerse herself in dead and even ignored or forgotten painters while her contemporaries are caught up being "fulfilled."
Half of the eight-member cast play single roles, with Richard Nelson as Peter, Richard Jewkes as Scoop, and Betsy Nagel as Heidi's longtime friend, Susan. These four alone - Cohen, Nelson, Jewkes and Nagel - account for much of the realism in bringing Wasserstein's characters to life.
The other half of the cast - Bobbi Fouts, Michelle Peterson, Michael Shane and Britt Sady - play three to four characters each, demonstrating a remarkably broad range of personas and emotions.
Essentially, "Chronicles" is 12 short vignettes which stand alone as one-scene playlets.
Some of Wasserstein's best dialogue is in the scenes involving Heidi and Peter, including their first humorous meeting in 1965 at a high school dance, then nine years later in front of a Chicago art museum, when they confront his sexuality, and even later, in 1987, during a poignant meeting in a pediatrics ward.
Paralleling the Heidi/Peter relationship is Heidi's ongoing friendship with womanizer Scoop. This guy is a real jerk, even when he rises to be the publisher of the country's No. 1 trend-setting periodical, Boomer.
Both Nelson and Jewkes give finely hewn performances as two men who are at the opposite ends of Heidi's spectrum.
In the ensemble, Bobbi Fouts plunges into four separate roles, ranging from Fran, an outspoken, vulgar lesbian, to April Lambert, the innocuous Barbie Doll host of the "Hello New York" talk show, which is devastated by panelists Scoop, Peter and Heidi.
Cory Dangerfield's simple but highly functional set is first-rate, helping the action shift smoothly from high school gymnasiums to hotel foyers to apartments, restaurants and TV studios in a matter of moments. It's augmented by Megan McCormick's finely tuned lighting.
Under Ed Gryska's supervision, SLAC has mounted an excellent production of "The Heidi Chronicles," a play that many consider one of the most important works of the 1980s.
It's witty and occasionally insightful. I just wish it had been less superficial and more substantive.