The Heidi Chronicles | Critical Review by Robert Brustein

This literature criticism consists of approximately 11 pages of analysis & critique of The Heidi Chronicles.
This section contains 605 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Phyllis Jane Rose

Critical Review by Robert Brustein

SOURCE: "The Editorial Plan," in The New Republic, Vol. 207, No. 24, December 7, 1992, pp. 33-4.

A highly respected American drama critic, Brustein was formerly Wasserstein's teacher. He is noted for his controversial views regarding the theater and for his commitment to quality. In the following review, he finds Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig endearing but considers the work a regression to her earlier plays.

Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig, newly opened at Lincoln Center, has quickly been announced for Broadway, where it should have opened in the first place. It is the female equivalent of Conversations with My Father, Neil Simon for the college set, a sit-com Three Sisters, already destined for Critics Circle Awards and anthologies like Best American Plays of the Year. My heart sank a little when the witty one-liners began popping ("Multiple divorce is a splendid thing, you get so many names to choose from"; "Love is love, gender is merely spare parts"). I had hoped, after The Heidi Chronicles, that my very gifted former student was shaking her witticism habit. The Sisters Rosensweig has a lot of charm, but it is a regression. I guess it's hard, in the precarious circus of American theater, to give up your trapeze.

Wasserstein's wit is not cruel, which makes her play at the same time endearing and somewhat toothless. Her technique is to create a character who looks at first like a stereotype, then to show the more complicated workings of the human heart. One can't help liking the person who creates this kind of material, even when it seems thin and predictable, so by its own internal measure, which is to be likable, The Sisters Rosensweig is a success. People will be entertained and will leave the theater feeling warm and wise, which are the requisites of a commercial hit.

The play is primarily about Jewish identity. Three sisters gather together in London to celebrate the eldest's fifty-fourth birthday. Sara (Jane Alexander) is a haughty, love-less banker who, scorning her religious background, is now seeing a vaguely anti-Semitic Englishman. Gorgeous (Madeline Kahn) is a New England housewife from West Newton, currently "schlepping the sisterhood around London." Pfeni (Frances McDormand), the youngest, is an activist journalist in love with a bisexual English stage director. Of these only Gorgeous is remotely satisfied with her sexual lot. The main action concerns Sara's reluctant attraction to a shamelessly Jewish furrier named Mervyn from Roslyn (Robert Klein) who prefers to call her Sadie. Although Pfeni's stage director eventually decides he prefers men, Sara gets to sleep with Mervyn ("That furrier has some very special skills—just call it fun fur"). And the character who once called herself "a cold bitter woman who has turned her back on her family, her religion, and her country" finally gets to acknowledge her Jewish roots.

The director, Daniel Sullivan, has mismatched three actresses who really don't seem like sisters, which makes the simulated Moscow Art Theater poses appear even more artificial. But the performances are creditable enough—in the case of Kahn even wonderful. Edgy, nervous, and slightly hysterical, with a voice that slides into bat shrieks, she invariably finds both the comedy and the poignancy in a character who could easily have become a suburban housefrau caricature. I found Alexander's Sara, though womanly, a trifle too coiffed, but so is the role. And his colorful character tempted John Vickery's English stage director into too much show-biz rodomontade. Klein's Mervyn, on the other hand, was a congenial loud mouth, a good-natured version of Alan King. But, oh, Wendy Wasserstein, after you've picked up all your awards, won't you throw away your safety net?

(read more)

This section contains 605 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Phyllis Jane Rose