The Heidi Chronicles Summary

Wendy Wasserstein

The Heidi Chronicles

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The Heidi Chronicles Summary

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The Heidi Chronicles is a play by Wendy Wasserstein in 1988. In 1989, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and in 1995 was adapted into a television film directed by Pail Bogart and starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Hulcein. Jerry Seinfeld’s hit sitcom premiered in July of 1989 under the titleThe Seinfeld Chronicles, as both an homage to, and a spoof of, Wasserstein’s play. Very soon after that, however, the show was shortened to simply, Seinfeld. Wendy Wasserstein’s play received much critical acclaim on its initial release. One critic from The New York Times, Mel Gussow, wrote, “Ms. Wasserstein has always been a clever writer of comedy. This time she has been exceedingly watchful about not settling for easy laughter, and the result is a more penetrating play. This is not to suggest, however, that The Heidi Chronicles is ever lacking in humor.”

The Heidi Chronicles focuses on the women’s movement of the late twentieth century, and is told through the story of Heidi Holland, who is first introduced as a high school student, and who eventually becomes a successful feminist art historian. Notable themes include, but are not limited to: feminism; the role of women in society at different times in history, specifically the late twentieth century; social justice; homosexuality; gender roles; and sexuality.

The Heidi Chronicles begins with a prologue. It is 1989, and the scene takes place in a lecture hall at Columbia University. The main character is a woman named Heidi Holland, who is a forty year old art history professor. She begins by delivering a lecture on three women artists: Sofonisba Anguissola, Clara Peeters, and Lilly Martin Spencer. The main point of the lecture is to highlight that while these women were either very highly regarded when they were contemporary and/or extremely talented painters, they are virtually unknown in the present day.

Then the play shifts to 1965, and an unknown high school in Chicago. Heidi Holland is sixteen years old and decides to go to a dance with her friend, Susan Johnston. At the beginning of the scene, Heidi and Susan look out at the dance floor and sing along to the song playing, “The Shoop Shoop Song.” Soon, a boy named Chris Boxer asks Heidi to dance, but she declines. She says she does not want to leave her friend alone. Then a ladies’ choice dance is announced, and Susan hikes up her skirt and runs out on to the floor to ask a boy to dance. Heidi meets Peter Patrone, who is charming and witty. They get along well, and promise to know each other all their lives.

Several years later, Heidi is at a Eugene McCarthy rally, and encounters Scoop Rosenbaum. Scoop is rude, obnoxious and extremely arrogant. He is a magazine editor who often has many simultaneous affairs. He has an unpleasant tendency to grade everything, and yet Heidi becomes contradictorily attracted to him. She eventually understands Scoop to be a very intelligent man, despite his arrogance. Heidi leaves the party to go to bed with Scoop, and it is implied that Heidi might have been a virgin before this. Then she attends a consciousness-raising session, in which a lesbian explains that, in feminism, “you either shave your legs or you don’t.” Heidi is left to think about her body hair through the lens of social norms. She tells the group about her pathetic attachment to Scoop, and feels distraught. She begs the other women to tell her that all of their daughters will someday feel more worthwhile than they do.

The next noteworthy event is a rally at the Chicago Art Institute, which Heidi attends. The rally is being held in protest of a major introspective, which doesn’t contain a single woman artist. Peter Patrone, who is now a pediatrician, arrives and confesses his homosexuality. Later, it is revealed that Scoop has been married to another woman. He claims to love Heidi, but he cannot and does not promise equality.

Eventually, as the 1980s comes around, Heidi must face her sense of betrayal. Scoop and Heidi, despite their differences, go on to form a rather tense friendship. The final events of the play concern Heidi’s realization that just because she is not married does not mean she can’t be a mother. She decides to take matters into her own hands, and chooses to adopt a child, and raise it on her own.