Attachment, Loss, and Recovery in The Heidi Chronicles
Daniel J. Watermeier
In the prologue structured as a lecture on women artists, the title character of Wendy Wasserstein The Heidi Chronicles describes Lilly Martin Spencer's portrait of a melancholy young woman "We Both Must Fade" ( 1869) as a "vanitas" painting: "We have a young woman posing in an exquisitely detailed dress surrounded by symbolic still life objects. The fading flower and the time piece are both reminders of mortality and time passing, while the precious jewelry spilling out is an allusion to the transcience of earthly possessions. This portrait can be perceived as a meditation on the brevity of "youth, beauty and life" (161). Deflating her seriousness and her insight, Heidi adds ironically "But what can't?" (161)
Most commentators have stressed the pro- or anti- feminist sentiments inherent in The Heidi Chronicles, but informed by certain psycholanalytical theories, it can also be productively read as an acute psychological study of its central character. In the course of delivering her lecture on "We Both Must Fade," a part of Heidi's mind flashes back to dwell on three key overlapping relationships in her life. Her backward reflection is not a systematic analysis, not sociology or history, but rather a fragmentary, dramatic meditation on attachment, loss, and recovery as a developmental process in Heidi's efforts to find and assert her authentic self. Also as in "vanitas" paintings, a certain melancholia or dysphoria pervades Heidi's self-exploration. Indeed, although structured mainly as a social comedy, images of death, depression, and disillusionment hang like a pall over the action of the entire play muting its comic potential and energy.
Befitting her role as an historian, the events Heidi memorializes are presented in chronological order, covering twenty-four years between 1965 and 1989, roughly from Heidi's seventeenth to her forty-first year. Act One, spanning the ten years between 1965 and 1977, traces Heidi's romantic attachment to and subsequent loss of Peter Patrone and especially Scoop Rosenbaum. In Act One also, Heidi is introduced to the "women's movement" or "feminism," not so much as a "love object," but as an ideal or cause.
Heidi meets Peter at "a horrible high school dance" (161) in 1965, she remembers, where "you sort of want to go home, and you sort of don't know what you want. So you hang around, a fading rose in an exquisitely detailed dress, waiting to see what might happen" (161). Peter is attracted to her