Gender Power Structure in The Heidi Chronicles

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1917

Despite its reputation as a feminist play, the male characters and their values dominate The Heidi Chronicles. In a review of the original Broadway production, Cathleen McGuigan said in Newsweek: ‘‘The men in Heidi’s life are more interesting [than her female friends].’’ Another critic, Gayle Austin from the Theatre Journal called Heidi passive and claimed the play ‘‘gives them [men] all the best lines.’’ Many of Heidi’s choices are made for and defined by men. Indeed, her role in many scenes is limited to a reactive one; she responds to the sentiments of her male counterparts. Save Heidi, the women in the play are reduced to stereotypes: aggressive businesswomen, single-minded feminists, doting wife and mother. They are often regarded as the weakest part of the play.

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The problem with the female characters is embodied in Susan, Heidi’s best female friend. Susan has no real depth, none of the heart and selfawareness that Scoop and Peter frequently display. Wasserstein emphasizes Susan’s shallowness by having her change careers and attitudes with the trends of the times. She goes from being a law student to a feminist collective member to a business school grad working as a power-hungry Hollywood executive. In her last appearance on stage, Susan even states: ‘‘By now I’ve been so many people, I don’t know who I am. And I don’t care.’’

Susan also shows disregard for the well-being of her fellow woman in two key scenes. In Act One, scene one, the teenaged Heidi and Susan attend a high school dance. Susan abandons Heidi to dance with a boy who can twist and smoke at the same time (a superficial attraction that reveals much about Susan’s attractions later in life). This occurs after Heidi has refused to dance with a boy because she didn’t want Susan to feel left out. In Act Two, scene three, when Heidi invites Susan to lunch to talk about personal matters, Susan, in her Hollywood dealmaker persona, turns the friendly gettogether into a business meeting and tries to convince Heidi to help her with the development of a television series. She pitches it as a project that will benefit Heidi, but it is clear that Susan cares little for her friend’s well-being; her intentions are only for her own success.

In Heidi’s climactic monologue, Act Two, scene four, Heidi sighs, ‘‘I thought the point was that we were all in this together,’’ the ‘‘we’’ meaning women. This is clearly not the case with Susan and Heidi’s relationship. Even Heidi’s own support of other women is, at times, questionable. When Heidi and her colleague Debbie stage a protest outside of the Chicago Art Institute lamenting the lack of women artists, Heidi abandons Debbie to be with Peter. Debbie says, ‘‘God, I despise manipulative men.’’ Peter can’t resist responding, ‘‘Me, too.’’ He should know. Both Peter and Scoop undermine Heidi’s relationships with women—and her feminist allegiances—from the first scene of The Heidi Chronicles.

As the primary male characters in Wassersteins’s play, Peter Patrone and Scoop Rosenbaum are portrayed as opposite sides of the same coin. Peter is a gay pediatrician with a ready wit. He practices a traditional, hallowed profession, which gives him a certain status in society. Scoop also has a pithy sense of humor and makes commonly accepted choices. He is a lawyer and a journalist. He marries well, expecting his wife to have a career that is not as important as his so that she can rear their children (Lisa’s career as an illustrator of children’s books is portrayed as more of a hobby than an occupation; she is primarily Scoop’s wife and the mother of his children). These male characters are shown to have lives beyond their careers, they are not ruled by...

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