(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Heidi Chronicles is Wendy Wasserstein’s semiautobiographical play about life from the mid-1960’s through the late 1980’s. Although few of the incidents in the play have exact parallels in Wasserstein’s life, Heidi serves as the author’s witness to the confusion, frustration, and sense of disappointment that many young women felt during this period. It is not coincidence that the name “Heidi Holland” reflects the alliteration of Wasserstein’s own name. Moreover, she also shares the name of the title character in the children’s novel Heidis Lehr und Wanderjahre (1880; Heidi, 1884) by Johanna Spyri, about an energetic young girl who lives in the Swiss Alps. This character displays a mixture of youthful enthusiasm and maturity. While growing up, she helps the other characters deal with the problems that they encounter in their own lives. So, to a large extent, does the character of Heidi in Wasserstein’s play.

This connection between Wasserstein’s Heidi and the title character of Spyri’s novel is reinforced during a climactic scene in the play when Peter wonders, “Did you know that the first section [of Heidi] is Heidi’s year of travel and learning, and the second is where Heidi uses what she knows? How will you use what you know, Heidi?” Built upon this same structure, the first act of The Heidi Chronicles takes place in numerous locations as it follows Heidi’s period of travel and learning. The second act, set solely in New York City, illustrates Heidi beginning to use what she knows and gradually coming to terms with herself and her own identity.

One of the most important lessons that Heidi must learn in The Heidi Chronicles is how to balance her career with her need to serve others and find meaning in her own life. This, in fact, is the goal that all the characters in the play are trying to attain. Peter becomes a successful pediatrician who develops a special ward for children with HIV...

(The entire section is 819 words.)