When “The Heidi Chronicles” opened at the Music Box Theatre on March 19, it was almost 26 years to the day since the Pulitzer Prize winner premiered on March 9, 1989. Director Pam MacKinnon took a gamble reviving Wendy Wasserstein’s play about the Baby Boomer feminist movement. But a strong cast — helmed by Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men") — helped shepherd the social commentary back to Broadway.
“I was drawn to the fact that there was a female playwright, a female director and a female lead,” says Bryce Pinkham, who left his starring role in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” for this show. “I had some questions about the references — they’re very dated — [but] I never felt like it was a risky move to be in the show with these people.”
MacKinnon’s name adds cachet, but so does casting Moss in the title role. Strategically casting the “Mad Men” star alongside funnyman Jason Biggs makes the play feel fresh. But Biggs’ Scoop isn’t the love of Heidi’s life; her heart belongs to her best friend, Peter, played with quiet intensity by Pinkham.
“I like to think of them as star-crossed,” Pinkham says. “If you’re going to reduce them to a character description, you’d call him the gay best friend — but they’re really much more than that.” The two are presented as soulmates who might marry, until it’s revealed that Peter is gay.
“Coming out in the ’70s wasn’t the same as it is today. There were no celebrities, no template for it,” Pinkham says. “It was just sort of like inventing a code for doing it on the spot, so I was very conscious of wanting to do that piece of gay history justice.”
This pivotal scene occurs at one of Heidi’s feminist rallies; her friends don’t believe men should be there, while Peter insists that it’s time for women to support the gay community. Sound familiar? Patricia Arquette made a similar call for minorities to band together at the Oscars in February. In fact, many of the play’s observations about civil rights in the 1950s-'80s still ring painfully true in 2015.
“Whenever I start to get riled about these issues, I remind myself: Don’t act like we haven’t come a long way — we have. But we’re not finished,” Pinkham explains. “Peter would feel like that, too, and address it all with a wink and a smile. There’s a part of him that says: ‘Good luck, guys, we did our best.’”
On relating to the play’s main characters:
“I think all women will be able to identify with the pressures put upon them to ‘have it all’ and make choices in their lives that supposedly will define them. Heidi finds that she is left behind in life by both men and women because she didn't make the normal choices in life. She realizes that she has to make a decision that's for her.”
“I hope that audiences relate to, or at least appreciate, Scoop's incredible honesty. Sure, he might deliver it arrogantly at times, but he always calls it like he sees it. I believe Heidi's longstanding attraction to Scoop is due in large part to this candor.”