'The Heidi Chronicles' to debut on Wednesday night

by Frances Cha | 8/2/05 5:00am

It's the last round of rehearsals, and the stage crew in Moore Theater is finishing up the last touches to the set. On the stage are large black-and-white panels depicting iconic figures from the last few decades. An enormous movie screen, specially built for the set by one of the cast members, hangs behind the panels. The last dress rehearsal is only hours away, and the cast and crew of Summer term's main-stage production are getting revved up for the opening night.

Wendy Wasserstein's best-known play "The Heidi Chronicles" will be opening in Moore Theater at the Hopkins Center on Wednesday, Aug. 3. First produced off-Broadway in 1988, the play has not only won the Pulitzer Prize for drama but also received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Tony Award.

Wendy Wasserstein was the Montgomery Fellow last Spring term. She held a reading of her new play, "Third," which is scheduled to open on Broadway this fall. As part of the Montgomery Fellows program, Wasserstein was also supposed to teach a script-writing course during the Summer term, but the course was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

"The Heidi Chronicles" follows the protagonist, Heidi Holland, played by Hannah Chodos '06, through three decades of social and political change in America. It is a resolute portrayal of the baby-boom generation's coming-of-age, with a backdrop of political commentary.

Since its debut, the play has been the subject of much controversy. Although the play is heralded as one of the forerunning feminist plays of this era, feminists have criticized the play for its negative comments on the women's liberation movement (usually voiced through the male characters).

James Hornton, the guest director for Dartmouth's production, disagrees with such criticism.

"Heidi's journey in the process of the play is very heartfelt -- it's a remarkable chronicle of this woman coming to terms with who she really is. The characters and their journeys obviously mean very much to the playwright," he said.

Hornton, who is an actor, director and television and film writer, is originally based in Denver, Colo., and has been part of the Denver Center Theater Company for over 20 years. He attended Hanover High School and has been part of the Dartmouth Summer Repertory Theater since 1972.

In the process of directing the play, Hornton said that he found it both fascinating and nostalgic to revisit the particular era around which the play centers.

"My respect for this play grows all the time. For me, as a man growing up in this period of time, it's really interesting to remember what it was like in this period," Hornton said.

Because the cast of young students have no first-hand experience of that particular time period's culture, Hornton said that he tried to engage them and help them understand that a lot of what is taken for granted now was just being discovered and fought for in those times.

"It's interesting talking to Jamie [Hornton] when he tells us about that particular culture," said Sasha Staley '08. "I have a better view of what it was like."

Along with having a small part in the play, Staley is also the assistant costume designer. As the play spans three decades, the costumes are an integral part of depicting the flow of time. Staley said that "all of the costumes are vintage pieces from the eras we are trying to recreate."

Olivia Gilliatt '08 also agreed that "the costumes are fabulous." Gilliatt plays four different roles in the play and also works as part of the stage crew.

There are a number of characters that were written as multiple roles, and Gilliatt said that the cast definitely grappled with why it was written that way, but also found it quite fun to act. She described her four characters as "a furry lesbian physicist, a radical liberal shepherdess, a pregnant magazine editor with a history of LSD-use and a Kathy Lee Gifford-esque talkshow host."

The play will run Wednesday, Aug. 3 through Friday, Aug. 5; Sunday, Aug. 7; Wednesday, Aug. 10 through Friday, Aug. 12; and will conclude on Sunday Aug. 14.

Don't miss opening night, tomorrow at 8 p.m.

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