Over the weekend, the Carleton Players performed The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein. The show, directed by David Wiles, featured Bryn Battani ’23 as Heidi Holland, Sawyer Stone ’23 as Scoop Rosembaum and Josh Isaacs ’22 as Peter Patrone.
The Heidi Chronicles follows an art historian, Heidi, as she navigates relationships, grows into a mother, and asserts herself in a man’s world. I sat down to talk with Bryn Battani about the show and we discussed one of the questions that the show reckons with, one that is still relevant since the show opened on Broadway in 1989: “whether a woman can have it all,” meaning a career, a family and her own sanity.
Heidi’s life does not follow a traditional timeline; she dates Scoop Rosenbaum on and off until they marry, and has a strong friendship with Peter Patrone. She is also an accomplished art historian who has studied women’s art and published a book by the time she decided to have a child in her 40s.
Battani explains that Heidi “is part of a generation of women that rejects the notion that they have to follow a specific path to marriage and motherhood but she finds herself kind of lost because she feels at a certain age her clock ticking.”
One of the scenes that stands out to me from the show is when Heidi meets Scoop at the Eugene McCarthy for President meeting. Scoop is an energetic personality who confronts Heidi, but Heidi is mainly unreactive to his comments. She sits on the bench and appears to listen but doesn’t walk away or give much to Scoop in response. During that scene, I stayed in my chair but felt drawn to rise up and question Heidi, ‘Why aren’t you reacting? Walk away!’
Battani saw it similarly when we talked about that scene. She wonders aloud about her character: “Why isn’t she just talking to him? What’s wrong with her?” Moments like this make Heidi a unique character. She is not reactionary, and instead seems to be contemplative taking in the world. My emotional reaction to this scene highlights the talent in Battani and Stone’s acting, as they made me feel drawn in and invested in their interaction.
However, Heidi does choose moments to raise her voice. A moment that resonates today in the ongoing debate about representation in art is when Heidi and some friends march in an art museum demanding that women artists be showcased since they are the majority of the museum patrons. The scene is powerful, as the three women stand on the stage with broad stances, signs and a megaphone chanting “Women in Art!.” The stage is small, and the women take up most of the space, which allows them to display an aura of determination as they demand representation.
Another scene where Heidi memorably uses her voice is towards the end when she stands up to give a speech at a luncheon and reveals that she has nothing prepared because she feels “stranded.” Brynn’s delivery of Heidi’s monologue conveys an intelligent vulnerability and command of character.
And with Heidi standing solo in the center stage, we get to focus on just her. Finally, the moment is hers. It isn’t Scoop’s or Peter’s or one of her friends. However, her moment of raising her full voice also involves confessing she is unsure of her place in life. Heidi resolves this uncertainty at the end when she has a child.
Something that interested both Battani and myself was the incorporation of art into the show. Battani said that she took art classes with her mom as a child, so she was familiar with some of the artists. I had never seen the paintings before, but the way that Wasserstein incorporates Lilla Cabot Perry’s “Lady in Evening Dress” and Lily Martin Spencer’s “We Both Must Fade” into the show intrigued me. In both, a woman stands dressed nicely but detached, and the paintings appear as a reflection of Heidi as a character.
The Heidi Chronicles is many things—a feminist manifesto, a chronicle of searching for place and love, and an exploration of women’s art. I walk out of the show thinking about whether much has changed since the period which the show unfolded, during 1965-1989. My hopes for the future echo the themes in the show, and many are 2019 versions of Heidi’s aspirations.
Bryn sees the relevance of the show today too. She looks at me as she relates to her character: “I see what Heidi is striving for.”