by Suzanne Bowness
The Heidi Chronicles debuts this week at Alumnae! Directed by Ilana Linden and produced by Alison Smith; co-produced by Kim Croscup and Chenyi Guo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is opener to our 102nd season. Written in 1988 by Wendy Wasserstein, the play covers 20 years of a woman’s life and relationships as she and her friends seek political, professional and personal fulfillment in a rapidly-changing world. There is also lots of room for nostalgia with many costumes from the 1970s and 80s (peasant blouses, anyone? Shoulder pads?)
And while audience members usually have to wait for our post-show Talkback (coming up on Sunday, September 29) to hear from the actors, we’ve already managed to pin down Daniel Jones https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/bios-the-heidi-chronicles.html (who plays leading man Scoop Rosenbaum) for a Q&A right here on this blog! Here’s what he had to say on everything from the play’s appeal to its characters and even those multiple costume changes.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE PLAY AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?
I love that it is a coming of age story—for Heidi, of course, but also for the other characters in her life—over decades of significant cultural change and upheaval. I love that we get to see who these people become, their hopes and dreams and disappointments. What happens when you stick to your beliefs and what happens when you settle?
I love that it’s really funny and tender and gives profound insight into the road women walked. And, without question, Wendy Wasserstein’s writing is brilliant with characters that feel real and relatable.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO PREPARE FOR THE ROLE OF SCOOP ROSENBAUM, ONE OF TWO LEADING MEN IN THIS PLAY?
Along with the rest of the cast, I did a good bit of research on the time period the play spans. For Scoop, I spent time focusing on what it would be like for a Jewish-American man to make his way in the WASP-y American northeast when anti-Semitism was prevalent—particularly at boarding schools and universities.
How would he face it? How does that inform the choices he makes? And what expectations would he have faced from his parents, peers, and of course, from navigating white male dominant culture. What does Scoop need to do to succeed—who does he need to become?
And then, of course, I focused on relationships, particularly his relationship with Heidi.
Ilana walked Breanna [Dillon, who plays Heidi] and me through multiple exercises to explore, including having us write letters to each other’s character. This was significantly helpful and profoundly moving.
Lastly, Breanna and I had a good deal of conversation about these two characters—what attracts them and draws them together, even though they may not be so good for each other. Why they act on the impulses they act on and why they end up where they end up. Always a gift to collaborate with other actors and explore this world together.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO PLAY THESE PAST ERAS FROM TODAY’S VANTAGE?
The play feels resonant today and gives tremendous insight into the road women walked, the road my mother and her generation walked during their coming of age. It’s fascinating to step into their shoes—but for a brief moment—and imagine the complexity of choices and costs made to fight for justice and what is good and right or to perhaps succumb to expectations, fall in line and settle.
I appreciate the profound difficulty and possibility of that experience and appreciate the glimpse into this time through the voice of Wendy Wasserstein.
THE SHOW COVERS A LOT OF DECADES. IF YOU COULD BEAM YOURSELF BACK TO ONE WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?
Tough one. I feel pretty nostalgic for the eighties—big fan of eighties pop culture and there may or, may not have been a few movies in there that inspired me to become an actor—E.T., Indiana Jones, The Goonies.
If I had to choose, I find the 60s intriguing and exciting. It’s when my parents grew up and a time when everything was being upended, both for good and sometimes for not so good. But a fascinating, energetic era.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE THEMES IN THE PLAY AND WHY?
All people can fulfill their potential. Love it. Love the possibility and hopefulness in that.
THERE ARE LOTS OF COSTUME CHANGES IN THIS PLAY—WHAT’S THAT LIKE AS AN ACTOR?
Fortunately, my changes are not quite quick and crazy like some others in the play (ahem…Breanna).
But I love how the period and changes in costume help define change and growth and helped me understand who Scoop is becoming—going from the casualness of youth to a suited, successful entrepreneur and businessman. It’s fun to imagine the persona your character is trying to project and why, through the clothes they’re wearing.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF THIS PRODUCTION?
Hard to pick a favourite. Love the era and the music and the truths that are presented. Love getting to speak brilliant words. Love collaborating with this cast and crew.
The Heidi Chronicles runs from September 20 to October 5, 2019. Click here for tickets: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=atc13
Photos: Bruce Peters