The Heidi Chronicles: An Exploration Into Second-Wave Feminism

Hannah Berkowitz ’17, right, and Hannah Beaudoin ’17, left, respectively play Heidi Holland and Susan Johnston, who is Heidi’s best friend.

Playfully tapping their feet, Hannah Berkowitz ’17, who plays Heidi Holland, and Hannah Beaudoin ’17, who plays Heidi’s best friend, Susan Johnston, dance and sing along to the funky tunes of Betty Everett’s “The Shoop Shoop Song” at a high school dance set in 1965. They giggle and shyly glance at a group of boys — played by Jack Hjerpe ’17, Ian Hurley ’19, and Thomas MacWilliams ’18 — as they comment on their looks and dance moves.

This scene opens the THDA-910 class’s rendition of the play “The Heidi Chronicles” by Wendy Wasserstein. Directed by Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theater, the show will be performed on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Theater Classroom. The production follows the life of Heidi from her high school years in the 1960s to her years as a celebrated art historian in the 1980s through multiple scenes, each one examining an aspect of second-wave feminism, a feminist movement that took place from the 1960s to the 1980s.

“There are a lot of different characters, changing and following different movements, and Heidi just doesn’t really know what to do and feels lost without anywhere to fit in. I think that the message of the show is that it’s more important how you internalize knowing how you feel than to associate with certain groups or to be popular,” said MacWilliams.

Additions to the Theatre Classroom were made in order to provide context to the different settings of this production. Various pieces of furniture were brought in, along with three projections screens in the back of the stage where background pictures and dates are displayed for the audience.

“There is a lot of video. It’s supposed to be fun, a little whimsical, and intimate. The space that we’re in, the new drama classroom, is very intimate. This is the inaugural production in the new space and so trying to capitalize on that enthusiasm, that energy, that immediacy and connection, is at the forefront. The use of video and sound and lights is central to location, because it takes place not in a linear fashion, but over a period of 25 years or more… So making that connection for the audience is important,” said Grimm.

“The Heidi Chronicles” follows the life of Heidi Holland as a high school student in the 1960s to her career as a renowned art historian in the 1980s.

The entire female cast makes up the “Huron Street Ann Arbor Consciousness-Raising Rap Group,” an eclectic group of women who regularly debated and discussed their views on the issues of progressing feminism and society in 1970. Heidi and all of the other girls involved in the scene end the session by standing up, forming a circle, holding hands, and singing a joyful camp song. 

“It’s very interesting the mix of women here. You have Heidi who doesn’t really want to be there, her best friend, Susan, who wanders all over the world getting all sorts of jobs and new things… Fran, who’s struggling with being a woman in a very different field and persecuted for being a lesbian, and then you have even a young, teenage girl who’s living with her abusive boyfriend… It’s very interesting to hear how all of them see the world and are trying to work together, despite their acute differences. [They] basically fight for women’s rights in whatever small ways they can even if it’s just saying, ‘No, I will not make your food — not today,’ ” said Emma Brown ’19, who plays Jill, a nurturing, forty-year old woman, Susan’s friend Molly at Scoop’s wedding, and a Southern, tipsy, expecting mother, Scoop’s wife.

Amidst the raucous commotion of a political campaign gathering, Heidi appears again, this time as a Yale graduate student in 1965, pursuing art history. Here, she encounters Scoop, played by MacWilliams, a womanizing and annoyingly presumptuous journalist who she shares a passionate kiss with afterward.

“I think my favorite scene is where Heidi and Scoop come in. You can see how Heidi first turns away from him, but then she becomes attracted to him. It’s just funny because he’s arrogant but he has that charming side that attracts people. You can see by the end that Heidi is no longer dependent upon him,” said Ella Ritchie ’19, who plays Becky, a soft spoken, troubled teenager also part of the rap group, and Denise, Scoop’s sister-in-law.

In a dimly lit setting with small, industrial restaurant tables, Susan perkily walks on stage, assuredly greeting many celebrities with a cheerful wave as Heidi waits silently at her seat. Susan, who is at this moment an illustrious Hollywood producer, introduces her assistant, Denise. As Heidi refuses an offer from Susan and her assistant to collaborate on a film project, what was meant to be a happy reunion between two long-time friends quickly transforms into a distanced and uncomfortable business meeting.

“It’s the first time in the play where the tension between the two of us is very noticeable because our values are just very different in this point in our lives. I’m very much so like Hollywood… Heidi is much more, I think at this point, kind of lost and not really quite sure how to navigate what she wants and also how she can possibly get that while still staying true to herself… And I also think that the way that it ends is quite dramatic and I always love the way I walk off the stage at the end because as I leave, we reference a certain line from the beginning of the show and just walk off. It’s very intense and dramatic,” said Beaudoin.

Along with entertaining the audience, Grimm hopes that this production of “The Heidi Chronicles” will spark discussions about equality, especially in the context of equal rights for women.

“All of us are important and all of us in this country need to think about what it is to be an American and who’s not being included. And it doesn’t matter if you’re African American or Latinx or a woman, we all should have equal pay, we all should have equal opportunities, and so forth. We’re only as good as our weakest members as a society, and this is one of the first theatrical venues that, in a feminist way, really approaches that,” said Grimm.