The Heidi Chronicles: Uncommon Women and Others Isnt It Romantic By Wendy Wasserstein

Free read à eBook, ePUB or Kindle PDF ñ Wendy Wasserstein

The graduating seniors of a Seven Sisters college, trying to decide whether to pattern themselves after Katharine Hepburn or Emily Dickinson. Two young women besieged by the demands of mothers, lovers, and careers—not to mention a highly persistent telephone answering machine—as they struggle to have it all. A brilliant feminist art historian trying to keep her bearings and her sense of humor on the elevator ride from the radical sixties to the heartless eighties.

Wendy Wasserstein's characters are so funny, so many-sided, and so real that we seem to know them from their Scene One entrances, though the places they go are invariably surprising. And these three plays—Uncommon Women and Others, Isn't It Romantic, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles—manage to engage us heart, mind, and soul on such a deep and lasting level that they are already recognized as classics of the modern theater. The Heidi Chronicles: Uncommon Women and Others Isnt It Romantic

The first time I read The Heidi Chronicles, I thought it read flat and couldn't see it at all. But it's one of those play where the more you become acquainted with, the more you like it. It feels like a real theatre students play. It is definitely the strongest of the bunch, but I much prefer 'Isn't it Romantic?', because I like the characters more. Heidi is such a tough nut. They all have the same themes running through them, but man, she can write dialogue like a boss. She's a less wordy waspy Tom Stoppard. 'Uncommon Women and Others' is just, weird. I don't know why it's even a play. But I'm sure once I get more acquainted with it, I'll like it more. A+ form, A- content. 249 This book of three short plays from the 1970s and 1980s is a delightful flashback for me. I will go to my 50th high school class reunion this year. It will be interesting to see how many of us managed to have it all.

A random speech from the first play, Uncommon Women and Others:

HOLLY: What kind of pleasure? There’s someone on top of you sweating and pushing and you’re lying there pretending this is wonderful. That’s not wonderful. That’s masochistic.

Well, this is a feminist play from the 70s! What did you expect?

Here is the description of Holly at the front of the play:
HOLLY KAPLAN: hair disheveled, yet well cut. She wears expensive clothes that don’t quite match, not because she doesn’t know what matches, but because she doesn’t want to try too hard. That would be too embarrassing. A relier for many years on the adage “If she lost twenty pounds, she’s be a very pretty girl, and if she worked, she’d do very well,” Holly has devised a strong moral code of warmth for those you love and wit for those you’re scared of. Holly saw the Radio City Easter Show in second grade and planned to convert.

Andre Bishop writes in the Foreward:
Reading the plays of Wendy Wasserstein is quite different from seeing the plays of Wendy Wasserstein. In the theatre, they are consistently funny; the comedy sparkles. Yet when one sits down to read these three plays, one is surprised, almost overwhelmed, by their seriousness.
It seems to me that Wendy’s plays are ideas that happen to be written as comedies. The three heroines, though vastly different, share an essential sadness, but it is a sadness deflected by humor, because these are witty women and they use their wit to devastating effect.

The thing is: I think maybe I just should have been born Jewish. That way I could have a heritage without having to be religious. I just love these Jewish characters and I loved the Jewish women in the Grace Paley short stories I just read. I must have lived in NYC in a past life. Or maybe I will in a future life!

A random speech from the second play, Isn’t It Romantic:
HARRIET: Mother, do you think it’s possible to be married or live with a man, have a good relationship and children that you share equal responsibility for, build a career, and still read novels, play the piano, have women friends, and swim twice a week?

In the third play, The Heidi Chronicles, Heidi gives a talk to an alumnae group in 1986:
Well, you might be thinking, this is a woman’s meeting, so let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. After teaching at Columbia yesterday, Miss Holland probably attended a low-impact aerobics class with weights, picked up her children from school, took the older one to drawing-with-computers at the Metropolitan, and the younger one to swimming-with-gifted-children. On returning home, she immediately prepared grilled mesquite free-range chicken with balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes, advised her investment-banker, well-rounded husband on future finances for the City Ballet, put the children to bed, recited the favorite Greek myths and sex-education legends, dashed into the library to call the twenty-two-year-old squash player who is passionately in love with her to say they can only be friends, finished writing ten pages of a new book, took the remains of the mesquite free-range dinner to a church that feeds the homeless, massaged her husband’s feet, and relieved any fears that he “might” be getting old by “doing it” in the kitchen, read forty pages of the Inferno in Italian, took a deep breath, and put out the light. So after all this, we forgive Miss Holland for not preparing a speech today. She’s exemplary and exhausted.

If you are a baby-boomer or a feminist or an over-achiever or simply know someone who is, you might enjoy this quick-read that will give you something to relate to, to remember and to think about for a while. Those were the days. Five stars. One extra for the nostalgia. Winner: 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
249 The best part of a good collection is watching a writer's voice develop over time. Reading Uncommon Women, I thought, This is nice, I guess: kind of like a Seinfeld episode: mildly amusing, with very random characters who talk like people really talk, and nothing actually happens. By Isn't It Romantic, I was thinking, Well, she's good at capturing a particular historical moment and showing how women think and feel, but she's not actually making me feel anything. She's good, but she's no Jane Austen. But by the time I finished The Heidi Chronicles, I was up to, Well, damn. I may have to revise my thinking on that Jane Austen thing.

Each of these plays is interesting in its own right, following bright young women of Wasserstein's generation who graduated from the best colleges, filled with feminist ideals about having it all--marriage, kids, and fulfilling careers--only to find themselves in their mid-thirties with little if anything to show for it. Their careers are not as far along as they once dreamed. They struggle with singlehood or with settling for men who secretly want to marry Donna Reed. And despite the professed values of the Feminist Movement, they're beset by the cattiness of other women. Wasserstein's heroines are struggling with the gulf between the ideals of feminism and the realities of life.

The Heidi Chronicles is clearly the star of the collection: the characters feel like people, not stock types, their pain pulls at the heart strings, and the gay character, Peter, gives the play further depth by pointing out to Heidi that women are not the only ones struggling to be seen and respected, and dreams aren't the only things dying in New York in the late 1980s. Wasserstein has captured something very powerful here, and, like Jane Austen, I wish she could have lived longer and had the chance to write much, much more. 249 A play I read for my survey of theatre class, The Heidi Chronicles wasn't my favorite. I felt that it lacked any plot or much depth in character development. It tried to tell a moving story of how a woman grows up through the 60s-80s trying to find a voice for herself, but I struggled to connect with the character at all. It jumped around a lot and was pretty confusing. It won a Pulitzer Prize, but I am not sure why. Probably because it explored new issues and was controversial. And the movie is even worse with Jamie Lee Curtis. Avoid both if you can. 249 What an awesome take on the long-view of women's lives! 249


This collection of three plays is not only entertaining but beautifully capture a segment of the Baby Boomer population – namely, the idealistic, professional women who embraced feminism and tried to make sense of what having it all means. All three plays are excellent, and I say this as someone who is generally lukewarm about the Baby Boomers and their tendency towards narcissistic naval-gazing. Ms. Wasserstein walks a fine line in exploring the issues that concerned her and her compatriots while avoiding self-centered ranting. In a way, the three remind me of a less commercial When Harry Met Sally. Recommended. 249 I hope our daughters never feel like us. I hope all our daughters feel so fucking worthwhile (182).

No more master penises! (185).

'I'm just not happy. I'm afraid I haven't been happy for some time.' I don't blame the ladies in the locker room for how I feel. I don't blame any of us. We're all concerned, intelligent, good women. It's just that I feel stranded. And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn't feel stranded. I thought the point was that we were all in this together (232).

I really liked reading HEIDI CHRONICLES, even if some of the plays' politics felt dated and some of the comedy felt off-the-mark to me. Like, are we meant to laugh at the radical lesbian or with her? The plays are really sharp, really funny, and persistently relevant. I appreciated the specificity of the characters and the settings: Seven Sisters and Ivy League (soon-to-be) graduates, navigating their lives as uncommon women in New York. Yes, it's a 9-5 kind of white (Jewish) feminism, with insufficient class critique, but those are the stories Wasserstein knows, not to mention ones that feel most familiar to me, and I'm grateful she told them. 249 I've had these plays on my shelf for a long time now but I never picked them up. I do think that it was for the best, since the place where I am in my life more closely resembles those of the characters in these plays. I do think that how I felt about these plays was strongly influenced by the place I am in my life.

Uncommon Women and Others - four stars

Isn't It Romantic - five stars

The Heidi Chronicles - three stars

Overall, I really love Wasserstein's snappy writing style and witty dialogue are the biggest strengths of the plays. Something else I enjoyed is that Wasserstein is able to write characters that I find revolting (especially in Isn't It Romantic, all of the supporting characters made me nauseated by how much I hated them, but I could still read the play without getting overly disgusted). The only play that really missed the mark for me was actually The Heidi Chronicles, despite it being the Pulitzer Prize winner. There were bits I enjoyed (especially the first couple of scenes) but the rest didn't resonate with me as strongly as Uncommon Women and Others or Isn't It Romantic. 249 Some may find this dated, but I think it hoped up really well. I read The Heidi Chronicles when it was first produced and recently listened to the original cast read it again. It made me get down my copy and read it all over.

Makes me yearn to see women equally valued in the world and not forced into predefined roles. Which of course would make it easier for men to be valued for who they are and not the roles they are forced into playing. There is not as much room between Scoop stuck in his successful power broker role and the sad father in Bechdel’s Fun Home abused by himself and abusing others.

Wendy Wasserstein you left far too quickly. 249 These were interesting as snapshots of the 70s and 80s but I did not enjoy the first two (Uncommon Women, Isn't It Romantic) and the third (The Heidi Chronicles) I only somewhat liked. The recent past can seem as alien as centuries ago, which really makes me consider how alien centuries ago really would be if I could only see it clearly.

As with all drama, any or all of these might be 100x better seen upon a stage than read in a book, although it is hard to imagine the first two having resonance with modern audiences -- the problems they are concerned with just aren't the problems most people are facing today. Not that misogyny is over! Misogyny is alive and well, but it looks so different now than it did in the 1970s that I found it very hard to engage with the reality behind these forms. 249