“All people deserve to fulfill potential.” This is the line reiterated throughout “The Heidi Chronicles,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Wendy Wasserstein, that portrays the play’s main theme.
This resonating line is the writer’s definition of feminism, according to Pamela Malkin, a Cal Poly theatre professor and director of the upcoming performances.
“She branded feminism as humanism, stating women and men should have intellectual, emotional, political and social equality. Wendy Wasserstein and her characters did not like any philosophy that was too rigid,” Malkin emphasized. “Her characters are bright, funny and witty, and struggle to be true to themselves.”
More than 50 actors – mostly Cal Poly students – auditioned last fall for the cast of eight. This comedy takes the audience from 1968 into the 1980s, as the characters find their way through women’s movements and gender gaps.
Wasserstein wrote the play in 1989 out of frustration; she didn’t think theatre at the time showed women she recognized, Malkin said.
“She captured contemporary women’s struggles, particularly women that wanted both intellectual independence and a long-term relationship,” Malkin said of Wasserstein.
Each character shows personal changes, especially Susan, played by theatre junior Lindsey Geibel. When Susan is first introduced, she’s at the forefront of the women’s movement. Then, as she grows older, she withdraws from everything she once knew. Malkin told Geibel to study Samantha from “Sex and the City,” taking note of how she talks and the way she moves, in order to prepare for playing Susan.
“My character changes drastically with every decade. I am up there at the top with the feminist movement, then go into being self-absorbed in Hollywood. She is a really fun character to play in the end,” Geibel said.
Theatre junior Sarah Butler plays three women, each unlike the next, in the performance.
“Lisa is a lot like me, Jill is a lot like my mom, and Debbie has been a struggle because she is an angry person. It’s definitely been a learning experience and growth experience as an actress,” Butler said.
Butler said she has grown as an actress but has also learned about the historic women’s movement on a more personal level through her preparation for “The Heidi Chronicles.”
“It is interesting because it is what our parents went through. It was interesting to talk to my mom and my grandma about how they felt and how (their experiences were) similar to the characters’ (experiences),” Butler said.
The historical context sets the scene as the women transform in both positive and negative ways. The women try to transcend the stereotype of working women while simultaneously attempting to fulfill their dreams.
“It’s a great story coming through history. It hits all the decades, some of the characters are quirky and change as the decades change. It’s really a beautiful story about Heidi, who plays the main character, and how she tries to stay true to herself,” Geibel said.
“The Heidi Chronicles” opens Thursday in Spanos Theatre and have showings Friday, Saturday, and March 6 to 8. All shows begin at 8 p.m.