The 1960s was an era of radicalism. Free love, sexual liberation and social change were popping up every which way. From television media to the McCarthy years, the personal became the political.
Jumping into the 1980s, the forefront of women's liberation had ultimately changed for the better. Many American women were leaving the home front and taking up careers thanks to their sisters fighting for equal rights. Once feminism took its toll on the paternalistic society of the 1960s, women actively found new success in business pursuits and personal passions as the "modern" women of the retro age.
Soulpepper's recent hit, The Heidi Chronicles, tastefully recounts this rich history while comically reminding us of the two types of women: "those who shave, and those who don't." Written by Wendy Wasserstein, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play takes us through the life of Heidi Holland (Michelle Monteith) during her teen years in Chicago up until her forties.
The show opens with a prologue. Heidi gives a lecture on the lack of female representation in Art History, circa 1989. Each scene then advances through time, beginning with a high school dance in 1965 where we meet first meet Heidi's ambitious friend, Susan Johnson (Sarah Wilson) and newfound love interest, Peter Patrone (Damien Atkins).
Moving three years ahead into Heidi's canvassing activities for the conservative McCarthy campaign, Heidi meets the editor of a liberal newspaper, Scoop Rosenbaum (Jordan Pettle) and gets involved in a torturous on-again, off-again relationship with him. As the years pass, Heidi becomes emotionally disconnected from Scoop, who later marries a children's author (played by Raquel Duffy).
Susan goes from grassroots feminism to major media mogul, and Peter comes out as gay, later coping with the AIDS crisis. Throughout all of this, Heidi is surrounded by the forces of feminism and the emerging burden placed on women as still being "doubly colonized" during this transitional period in women's history.
When it comes to the script, Wasserstein has created truly unique characters that audiences will emotionally equate with. Clear character development is evident throughout the entire performance as the Soulpepper ensemble gives diverse and strong portrayals throughout, adding minimal parody to the various eras from 'twist 'n' smoke' to corded phones. Michelle Monteith draws focus and attention to the drab art historian, while Damien Atkins portrays a loveable companion whose friendship with Heidi is ripped apart and mended throughout the years.
Whereas Peter, Scoop, Heidi and Susan remain solid characters throughout the play, a series of supporting roles are incredibly swapped from the lesbian physicist Fran to the host of Hello New York, April (Laura Condlln). Condlln's standout performances jump from frontline feminist to New York socialite at the top of her career, all of which are outstanding and entertaining throughout. Raquel Duffy and Sophia Walker are among the others whose diverse performances make the production utterly enjoyable and entertaining to watch.
Erika Connor's costume design purely drags us through the decades, providing for a historical account of the progression of style. Ken Mackenzie's set design accounts for an open fluidity that effectively translates across time and locations. Mackenzie employs a minimal fraction of the back wall's brick facade, while a large white wall arches over the space to project Shannon Lea Doyle's video design of famous paintings that consume the stage during each scene.
Where The Heidi Chronicles won numerous awards for its initial Broadway premiere, the Soulpepper company continues to highlight the excellence of this piece, who, in their own right, deserve recognition for their exceptional performance of this critically acclaimed play. Don't miss it before it's gone.
The Heidi Chronicles is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until June 24. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit soulpepper.ca.