In 1988, Heidi Holland, a professor at Columbia University, discusses paintings by Sonfonisba Anguissola, Clara Peeters, and Lily Martin Spencer, observing that they, like many other notable women artists, are still excluded from art history survey textbooks. Referring to a slide of Spencer’s “We Both Must Fade,” she reflects that it reminds her of a high school dance, where “you sort of don’t know what you want. So you hang around . . . waiting to see what might happen.”
After this prologue, the play unfolds in a series of flashbacks beginning with a 1965 high school dance attended by Heidi and Susan Johnston, both sixteen years old. Although Heidi is content watching the dance alongside her girlfriend, the libidinous Susan insists that they stand apart, claiming that their proximity might dissuade boys from approaching; she also plans to downplay her intelligence to make herself more appealing. When Susan departs to seek a partner in a “ladies’ choice” dance, Heidi seats herself and reads a book. Soon Peter Patrone sits beside her. After they indulge in some witty repartee, he shows Heidi how to dance.
Two years later, Heidi meets Scoop Rosenbaum at a New Hampshire dance for Eugene McCarthy supporters. Editor of The Liberated Earth News, the flirtatious Princeton University dropout barrages Heidi with disturbing questions; taken aback, she tries to distance herself from him, even introducing herself as Susan Johnston. Reflecting on Scoop’s unbridled assertiveness, Heidi wonders “what mothers teach their sons that they never bother to tell their daughters.” Scoop eventually reveals that Heidi’s real name has been plainly in sight on her name tag and observes that she represents an “unfortunate contradiction in terms—a serious good person,” whose unwavering idealism, he foresees, will make her an anachronism. They leave together.
In 1970, Heidi visits Susan at a meeting of the Huron Street Ann Arbor Consciousness Raising Rap Group. After observing Susan (now a law student), Jill (a housewife), Fran (a lesbian physicist), and Becky (a troubled teenager) praise one another’s achievements and accept their differences, the recalcitrant Heidi, now a Yale University art history graduate, reveals her emotional dependency on Scoop. She then declares, “I hope our daughters never feel like us. I hope all our daughters feel so . . . worthwhile” and receives the support of the group.
Four years later, Heidi and Peter meet at the Chicago Art Institute, where she and a small group of women are demanding greater recognition of women in art. Heidi still sleeps with Scoop but claims that she is no longer emotionally attached to him; she adds that Susan recently abandoned a Supreme Court clerkship alongside Scoop to live on a woman’s health and legal collective in Montana. Peter, at first joking that he has “developed a violent narcissistic personality disorder,” eventually confesses that he is “a liberal homosexual pediatrician.” This revelation angers Heidi, who had assumed that Peter desperately loved her. Heidi, however, remains with Peter after the protest leader excludes him from the rally because of his gender, and the two...
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