Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Heidi Chronicles

I had resisted seeing The Heidi Chronicles for the same reason I have resisted seeing The Vagina Monologues - I can't stand plays which try to shove a theology down my throat - even if I happen to agree with the message of the play. Especially if I agree.

But I needed to see Dragon Productions' showing, because this is their first play in their own theater, after 10 years of trying to establish a small-scale professional-quality live theater in Palo Alto. Dragon is the dreamchild of Meredith Hagedorn, an extraordinary actress whom I met a long time ago when my best theater buddy dragged me into what may be the smallest, darkest little theater in San Francisco to see her in a three-person show. I've been a fan ever since.

Meredith stars as Heidi, an art historian whose focus is women painters, especially women painters from the 17th and 18th centuries, whose work rarely makes it into major museums, due to blatant sexism (in her opinion). It's a challenging role, and she is stellar in it.

The rest of the cast is great, too. Dale Albright, whom I know from his years as membership person for Theatre Bay Area, is outstanding as Peter Patrone, the best pediatrician in NYC under the age of 40.

Forming the third leg of the triangle is Scoop Rosenbaum, ably played by Ted D'Agostino. In addition to acting, Ted also is a theater fight director, which I point out not because it has anything to do with Heidi (it doesn't), but because a couple of people on my friends list have been looking for such.

Peter is a charming, suave man who sweeps Heidi off her feet with poetic fantasy, Scoop is an obnoxious east coast lawyer/alternative newspaper editor who knocks her off her feet by sheer bravado and chutzpah.

We follow Heidi's life from her school dance in 1965 to her settling down in a NYC apartment in 1989. It's a story about friendship. Along the way it also deals with relationships, sexual identity, AIDS, baby boomers, support groups, infidelity and how we measure success.

The script is mostly brilliant, though some of the monologues are longer than they need to be, and some of the "coming out" scene makes Heidi look more clueless than a woman deep into the lib movement ought to be.

Supporting cast is super - Ann Marie Donahue as Heidi's best friend Susan Johnston is especially memorable as a star-chasing TV sitcom producer. I had a tough time envisioning her as a Supreme Court clerk, but she does a great Montana (or was it Wyoming?) women's collective member. Safiya Arnaout plays four roles, I liked her first one best- the camouflage-wearing outspoken lesbian who drops so many F-bombs I was afraid the stage might detonate. Mary Lou Torre took on three parts, and there is something about her that lit up my "mommy, I want one" light. She looks good in a wedding gown, but I liked her best as the placard-toting Debbie, leading the women's march on the art museum. Mary Webb also has three roles, including the co-producer of the sitcom - a job she obviously got through the Heidi Liberation Network. Last and least was Scott Hartley, who was the token pretty boy, whose five tiny roles were mostly Peter's heart throb de jour. He had a few lines here and there, but none of his characters had enough stage time to develop into anything.

Also deserving mention is the very sexy box office woman whose name I didn't get, who was quite appealing in her red knit pull-over, leather skirt and calf-high boots. And the very sexy Abigail Stone, AD/SM (get your mind out of the gutter, it stands for Assistant Director/Stage Manager) who did a great job - I only noticed one late music/light cue during an evening of way more sound and light changes than your usual small theater show.

I have only two negative comments. One is a minor nitpick - the audience lighting could stand to be dimmed about 20% - pre-show and intermission was slightly blinding. And the set - there wasn't really any set. The rear projection screen at the back of the stage is a neat trick (copied from sister stage Pear Avenue Theater in Mountain View), but I thought the debut performance deserved more than generic black plastic dining room chairs and generic black folding tables. Even the lovely rocking chair is unfinished wood, and looked out of place.

It's well worth braving the rain to see. The theater only seats about 40 people, and they have been selling out, so go to their web site and make reservations. The show runs Thursday-Sunday through March 19. $15 per person, which is a major bargain around these parts, and you can find free parking next door in the city-owned garage.

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