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STAGE REVIEWS : Bright Heidi Shines in 'Chronicles'

March 05, 1992|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — The Heidi of "The Heidi Chronicles" is one of those gleaming women who would seem to have it all: brains, looks, a sharply focused career that's also interesting, adoring friends, a golden future.

So why's she so unhappy?

Call it the Baby-Boomer Blues. Or the Post-'60s Hangover. Maybe the Feminist-Backlash Fits. How about the A Good Man Is Hard to Find (and My Biological Clock Is Ticking) Lament? Whatever the description, Heidi has it, almost to the point of paralysis.

Wendy Wasserstein won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for this play that helps put in perspective the ennui, if not the nastier \o7 Angst\f7 , that seems to afflict this generation of near-midlifers--men, too--more than others. It has minor flaws (Wasserstein's clever dialogue is always interesting, but not always as illuminating as it would like to be), but is still a valuable ironic comedy. It currently is receiving a rather capable staging at Orange Coast College under John Ferzacca's direction.

Ferzacca is lucky to have Lynn Laguna in the title role. As Heidi, she's in every scene, the spotlight never drifting away; even when the other characters' lives are being defined, it's usually their connection to Heidi that does the defining.

Laguna carries the responsibility well. She conveys intelligence, which is crucial (Heidi is nothing if not bright; in fact, being too smart may be her biggest trouble). Laguna's portrayal always is at, or at least very near, the right pitch as she takes Heidi through more than two decades of love, commitment, doubts and hopes.

"The Heidi Chronicles" is really more an odyssey, however mundane, than a chronicle. We watch her tune in as a young woman to a career devoted to art and women's causes, hook up with a guy who's not good for her, develop deep bonds with interesting girlfriends and, finally, reach a point where status and even a bit of celebrity aren't nearly enough.

Besides Laguna, this production has another strong performance in Daniel Combs as Peter, Heidi's first love who becomes a noted pediatrician. His subsequent revelation that he is gay tests their friendship. Peter's protective shield of wit and cynicism is battered when Wasserstein introduces the specter of AIDS, and Combs handles it with dexterity.

It wasn't easy to see the great charisma (or submerged caddishness) in Greg Harris' portrayal of Scoop, the second love in Heidi's life, but there was an amusing rapport between Harris and Laguna.

There were also small problems with Leslie Rowe's Susan. Rowe finds the rhythm in the early stages when we see Susan as a young go-getter, but her reduction of the character to a silly, Hollywood-infatuated television producer far into Act Two is overdone.

The same can be said for Wendy Thorlakson's too-cute talk-show host. We already know how ridiculous these talking heads can be; play it straighter and you get bigger laughs.

By the way, for those who can't get enough of Heidi, another staging of "The Heidi Chronicles" is set to open Friday night at Cal State Fullerton.

'The Heidi Chronicles'

An Orange Coast College production of Wendy Wasserstein's play. Directed by John Ferzacca. With Lynn Laguna, Leslie Rowe, Sean Cox, Daniel Combs, Greg Harris, C. Camille Chaney, Paula Thill, Kristeen Penrod, Salvy Maleki, Julie Ackerman, Michaell Silva, Armando Oseguera, Cindy Cafferty, Lisa Chiu, Angela Combs, Meara M. Retallaci, Wendy Thorlakson, Joakim Huber and Mike Bruno. Set by David Scaglione. Lighting by Dave Dunbrack. Costumes by Cynthia Tyler. Plays today through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the campus' Drama Lab theater, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $6 and $7. (714) 432-5880.

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