Friday, March 13, 2015

Are Boomers Bust?

At the end of The Heidi Chronicles, Scoop Rosenbaum, Heidi’s main love interest (who is, ironically, married to someone else), tells her that he has sold his influential magazine Boomer and is planning a run for Congress. The scene takes place in the late 1980s. Scoop seems poised to play a new and even more vital role in American society.

When Audrey and I first saw the play in the early ’90s, the sale of the magazine didn’t have any sinister meaning to us. It seemed like a natural progression and fit with playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s cynical view of Scoop and of American society coming out of the Reagan years.  Last night, we saw the play in its revival on Broadway, and Scoop’s decision to get rid of Boomer took on a whole new meaning. Maybe Boomers (yes, people like Audrey and me) are on our way out. Shudder!

Now I don’t think the playwright Wendy Wasserstein or even the director necessarily had this dire connotation in mind. But as an audience member in 2015, I felt it. I’d love to poll the audience that watched the play with us last night to get their opinion. They would have been a good sampling, since at least 75% of them were aging boomers like us. Most applauded loudly at play’s end, and many gave the actors a standing ovation. So maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe I’m too sensitive.

Elizabeth Moss as Heidi and women friends in the late '70s
When we first saw the play more than 20 years ago, Audrey was entranced, and I was happy to come along. Here was a play about well-educated professional women coming of age in American society, looking for their place, refusing to apologize for making that search, and establishing a strong voice. It was a fun ride from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, complete with music of each period and lots of humor and cynicism. How could it not speak to upwardly mobile Boomer women in the 1990s or even today? Not all goes well for Heidi, as she achieves professional success but laments her difficulty in finding happiness. How many Boomers does that describe! She looks for happiness in many different ways, as do the other characters. For several who do seem happy, the playwright adopts a mocking tone, showing their shallowness and implying that they don’t see the sand on which they are building foundations.

The play’s time span ended in 1989 because that is when it made its first appearance on stage. A lot has happened in America since then, and many changes have occurred in the lives of American women and gay men, the groups chiefly under focus in the play. One of the saddest changes during that time was Wasserstein’s untimely death in 2006 at age 55, leaving behind a young daughter and lots of unwritten plays. If Wasserstein were still alive, maybe she would have brought Heidi further up-to-date. Maybe she would have helped it speak to today’s Boomers more directly. Or maybe she would have written a new play about Boomers’ hopes and adventures in a new century. But the play we saw last night, while entertaining and well performed, was stuck in time, like something unearthed from a time capsule.

Several years ago, I managed to find a copy of the movie version of The Heidi Chronicles with Jamie Leigh Curtis that I gave Audrey for a Hanukkah present. We watched it and had a great time reliving our first Broadway experience. We didn’t feel any emptiness at the end. After all, you expect a movie or even a Shakespeare play to be of its time and can accept that idea. But a play about boomers who stop growing older and wiser before their time? Whose magazine is sold when then their “best years” are still to come? That can feel a little painful.
Heidi in movie form
In the final scene, Heidi and Scoop discuss their hopes that the world will be a more enlightened place for their children. They are passing the torch to a new generation (as a famous Boomer once said). But I still want to be part of the generation with a past, present, AND future. I am happy to be living in an age when being 65 is just another step toward a future. Especially when that step includes Medicare and senior discounts.

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