How Switzerland is like Van Nuys

Last night, we went to see the “The Heidi Chronicles” at Van Nuys High School; this play is alternating with “Latina“, which we saw last week, as Van Nuys’ Fall production. “The Heidi Chronicles” is a 1988 drama by Wendy Wasserstein, winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, that tells the story of Heidi Holland from her days in high school in the 1960s to her career as a successful art historian more than twenty years later. The story is told through a number of scenes at key junctures: 1965, at a school dance, where we learn who Heidi is, who her friend Susan is, and where she meets one of the key men in her life: Peter Patrone; 1968, at a Eugene McCarthy ralley, where Heidi meets Scoop Rosenbaum, the other key man in her life; 1970, at a women’s consciousness raising group; 1974 outside the Chicago Art Institute where she learns Peter is gay; 1977 at Scoop and Lisa’s wedding; 1980 at Lisa’s baby shower; 1982 with Peter and Scoop on a talk show; 1984, at a lunch with Susan; 1986 at a high school alumni speech; and 1987 at a hospital with Peter; and 1989 in Heidi’s new apartment. Each act is opened with a scene of Heidi lecturing about women artists and heir art. Per Wikipedia, the play’s main themes deal with the changing role of women during this time period, describing both Heidi’s ardent feminism during the 1970s and her eventual sense of betrayal during the 1980s.

When I contrast this with the alternating play, I didn’t like this one as much. I’m not sure why: the story is more accessible (Latina had many portions in Spanish); I understand the times better; and (at least according to critics and the Pulitzer committee) the story is better crafted. My guess is that it was the presentation: this play was further from the student’s experience, and this made it harder for them to turn the characters into living and breathing people. I think it was also complicated by last night’s performances: there were lots of line problems, and for many of the actors, the presentation seemed rushed, making it a recitation of lines. Another problem was character confusion: As some of the students played multiple characters, they did not distinguish them enough through acting mannerism to make the audience realize these were different characters. That’s something the director, Randy Olea, might have addressed had he realized it.

As the lead, Ariel Kostrzewski did reasonably well as Heidi. She was weakest in the framing scenes (the art lectures), where the rushed delivery led to the point of the framing scenes being lost. When interacting with other characters, she was much stronger and more believable. Providing her strong support were Quest Sky Zielder as Peter Patrone, Mike Hill as Scoop Rosenbaum, and Erin Geronimi as Susan Johnston. Quest, in particular, was notable for his strong delivery, his embodiement of character, and the humor he conveyed to the audience. Mike was also very strong as Scoop, delivering and acting well. Erin, who was also strong in Latina, portrayed the friend quiet well.

Rounding out the cast were: Vivian Ceemeño as Becky, Gabriel Dominquez as a waiter, Jade Field as Debbie, Priscilla Legaspi as April, Taylor Morris as Jill and Betsy, Melodie Muñoz-Lestrade as Lisa, Flavia Ponce as Clara, Kim Reyes as Denise, Alex Reynoso as Chris, Mark, and Doctor Ray, Denisse Rodriguez as Molly, and Priscilla Zambrano as Fran.

Turning to the technical. The set, develoed by Mr. Tom Kirkpatrick and his students, was relatively simple: triangular pillars and a number of props. It was sufficient to convey the times, but not much else. Sound and lights were provided by Mr. Marque Coy and his students. The sound worked better for this show with fewer microphone problems. Lighting was good, although I was unsure about the use of the moving lights before and after the show. Charlie Glasser and Clarissa Tanglao were technical stage managers, with Kenji Kang and Sierra McDuffee doing sound, and Kevin Vasquez, Kacie Rodriguez, Glory Smith, and Joseph Tafur doing lighting. One technical problem in the auditorium: although it was a cold and rainy night in LA, last night the air conditioning in the auditorium decided to run full blast.

As always, where the Van Nuys production team lacks is publicity and program. This production is not well advertised: there should be posters in local businesses, as well as announcements at local middle schools (to attract students to the magnets). It should be clear on the school’s website, and have easily findable pages on Facebook. It should also have a stronger program: there should be advertising sold in the program so that local businesses can (a) learn about the production and (b) support the school. They have done this for the yearbook and sports programs; it should be in the drama program as well. The program should also provide additional information on the show itself—in particular, identifying the author, the rights management company, and when the show was first produced (or notable LA productions). There’s also no reason a mechanism such as eventbrite shouldn’t be available so that tickets can be purchased in advance; using Goldstar would be even better, as the production would gain advertising as well.

Last night was the last performance of “The Heidi Chronicles“. You can catch the final performance of “Latina” tonight at 7pm for $8. Information at

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Tonight takes us to Long Beach to see The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Next weekend brings “Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire (We’re working Veterans Day). Veteran’s Day weekend brings Sylvia” at the Edgemar Center for Performing Arts in Santa Monica on Saturday 11/12; the following weekend brings “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center on its opening night, November 19. Karen will also be seeing “Riverdance” at the Pantages on November 16. I’m still waiting to ticket “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson (held for November 25, pending ticketing, hottix on sale for our block on November 8). Thanksgiving weekend also brings the last show of the REP season, “The Graduate”, on Saturday November 26. The first weekend of December is lost preparing for ACSAC, although I might squeeze in something on Saturday. The next weekend is busy, with a Mens Club Shabbat in the morning, and Travels with my Aunt” at the Colony Theatre in the evening. The remainder of December is unscheduled, but I’m sure we’ll fill things in for Winter Break. Of course, there is the de rigueur movie and Chinese food on Christmas day. January, right now, is completely open, although the first show of the REP East season will likely be in there somewhere. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.