Don't get the wrong idea, though — this is no dreary eulogy. Like most of Wasserstein's work, "The Heidi Chronicles" is a comedy, despite its concern with serious social issues. As a memorial, it most resembles an Irish wake: we gather to recall shared experiences and, most importantly, to laugh.
For the Baby Boomers in the audience, there are plenty of shared experiences to laugh about, as "The Heidi Chronicles" follows Heidi Holland (and, through her, the women's movement) through two-and-a-half decades of personal and social upheaval.
Heidi is an art historian; she makes a career observing and interpreting other people's work. As the play progresses, we realize that she is an observer in her own life as well, or, as she puts it, "a highly informed spectator." She watches her friends enact the huge social changes of the '60s, '70s and '80s, not quite knowing how to enter the fray herself. Appearing in the title role, Dragon founder Meredith Hagedorn captures Heidi's dilemma with subtlety and precision, assembling a complex character almost on the sly.
Hagedorn is at her best in the scenes that Heidi shares with celebrity pediatrician Peter Patrone (Dale Albright) and hot-shot journalist Scoop Rosenbaum (Ted D'Agostino). Peter and Scoop are the two men who know Heidi better than she knows herself. They challenge her, they point out her foibles, they upstage her on local TV.
Albright and D'Agostino inhabit these roles with assurance, and each demonstrates an ability to change the emotional tone of a scene at a moment's notice. In "The Heidi Chronicles," as in many of Wasserstein's plays, there is a risk that the characters will be seen more as symbols of vast social trends than as real people. It is to the great credit of Albright, D'Agostino and Hagedorn that we engage with these characters so fully, that we care about them so much.
The cast is rounded out by five obviously talented actors who play a host of friends, lovers, colleagues and kindred spirits. Special mention should go to Safiya Arneout for her appearance as a camo-clad, radical lesbian. In this, and in her other roles, her commitment and comic flair are obvious.
If the cast can be said to possess a single, collective flaw, it is a failure to keep up the pace of the scenes (and, for that matter, the scene changes). Wasserstein's intellectual banter should clip along, but the ensemble manages a moderate tempo at best, unintentionally undercutting the effectiveness of the show's justifiably slower moments.
Most of the show's flaws, though, have nothing to do with the actors. As with many low budget, actor-driven theater companies, it is the technical details that fall by the wayside.
The show's costumes, for instance, are too often nondescript. In a play that spans three decades — especially one with virtually no set and with half the actors playing multiple roles — this is a woefully missed opportunity to delineate not only the characters, but also the eras in which they live.
As the story unfolds in a dozen locations in four different cities, the various settings are indicated by photographs projected on a screen at the rear of the stage. This could be an ingenious solution for this tiny space, except that the slides are distractingly mismatched. Some are vibrant photos; others are poor reproductions with all their color leached out. Still others are not-quite-convincing computer simulations.
But surely the most obtrusive technical failing is the show's sound design. Some of the overly long scene changes are covered by music, while others are uncomfortably silent. The music in several party scenes cuts out abruptly, as though someone had unplugged the stereo, even though the characters continue to refer (and dance) to music that the audience can no longer hear.
Ultimately, though, these technical shortcomings should not discourage audiences from seeing "The Heidi Chronicles." As this is Dragon's first show in its new home, many of the technical problems can be excused. Having their own space should help the players build an audience base and a strong foundation.
Besides, Wasserstein's story is about people and the times they live in, not about lights or props, and it is told with warmth, humor, and sensitivity. Dragon's "Heidi" captures the humanity that was always at the core of Wasserstein's work. There could be no tribute more fitting.
What: "The Heidi Chronicles," a play presented by Dragon Productions Theatre Company
Where: Dragon Theatre, 539 Alma St., Palo Alto
When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., through March 19
Cost: Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students and seniors.
Info: Call the box office at (650) 493-2006. For more information, or for ticketing online, go to www.dragonproductions.net.
This story contains 870 words.
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