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Theater & Dance

Why The Heidi Chronicles Matters as a Gay Play

Why The Heidi Chronicles Matters as a Gay Play

Bryce Pinkham in The Heidi Chronicles
Joan Marcus

Don't miss Bryce Pinkham in the role of Peter Patrone in the current Broadway revival of the Wendy Wasserstein classic.


Bryce Pinkham in the Chicago park bench scene | Photography by Joan Marcus

In a pivotal scene in the first act of The Heidi Chronicles, Peter Patrone meets his longtime friend Heidi outside the Art Institute of Chicago where she, along with a small group of other women, are protesting the opening of a major exhibit that contains no female artists. But Peter isn't there to debate gender politics, rather, it's the moment he's decided to come out to his best friend, even if he doesn't quite have the language or skills to do it.

It's a heartbreaking, humorous and ultimately uplifting moment between two people on stage, and one that Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder), who plays Peter in the current revival of the show on Broadway (through May 2) alongside Elizabeth Moss and Jason Biggs, it's that scene on the Chicago park bench that he's enjoying exploring the most.

"Although it's fraught, and there's a lot of work in that scene, Peter is the one driving it," he explains backstage before a recent weeknight performance. "Peter is pushing that scene forward: He knows he has to do that thing and communicate this truth to her."

As a straight man, Pinkham says he asked many people their perspectives concerning coming out, an often-difficult decision most LGBT face at some point. "Ultimately, in the '70s, coming out as gay was much different," Pinkham says. "I sort of think that Peter and Heidi are soul mates for each other, and we think they might be a perfect match. When Peter finds out that vision they had is not possible, he has to reveal the truth about himself and start the new chapter of their friendship. It's as much about them as it is about him."

Peter tries to use his wit and charm to express himself to Heidi, even using the phrase, "Heidi, I don't play on your team," but she just doesn't seem to get that he's trying to tell her he's gay. "That's not cliche in the '70s," Pinkham explains. "That's Peter inventing the code and hoping she gets it. And she's not, she says, 'Oh yeah, Susan says no man really plays on our team.' Anytime there's something like that to pursue -- that contains humor and sadnes -- I love the opportunity to go through all of that in one trip on stage and to luxuriate in the uncomfortable moments."

Tracee Chimo, Jason Biggs, Elisabeth Moss, and Bryce Pinkham

Tracee Chimo, Jason Biggs, Elisabeth Moss, and Bryce Pinkham

Pinkham, along with Tracee Chimo in a variety of roles, gets most of the funny lines (including a hilarious sketch where they are on a morning TV show that seems plucked from an SNL writers' room). But it's the tense final scene between Heidi and Peter in a hospital waiting room that provides the the most profound punch as they grapple with what they mean to one another -- even if there is no romantic nature to their relationship. "Heidi says she feels stranded, and I think Peter feels stranded too when he finds out his best friend is going to leave," Pinkham explains. "He says, 'My world keeps getting narrower and narrower,' since he's basically lost a friend a week for months to AIDS. It's just incomprehensible now, but I'm trying to honor that moment in history."

For those familiar with Wasserstein's 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it may seem easy to simply write it off as a "period piece" that focuses on the women's movement of the late 20th century. But for those seeing the play now, especially for the first time, it's remarkable the way Peter's experience as a gay man is also detailed alongside Heidi's exploration of identity and self-fulfillment.

"Wendy really gave Peter some amazing things in this play," Pinkham admits. "She was writing from the perspective of a woman who was finding her way through second wave feminism, and her lovers, but at the core is the message: 'Our friends are our family,' which she gives Peter to say. She said that was what the play was about."

The Heidi Chronicles continues through May 2 at The Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th St., NYC

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