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A slightly dated script holds back the Firehouse’s latest.

Though the dialogue is packed with sharp-edged humor, the play is musty around the edges. In recent years, a number of plays, movies, and television shows have handled the same themes with more style and sophistication.

Wasserstein’s script does have one advantage over a television show. Because it describes such a long period of time, we get to see considerable evolution in the relationships between characters. The most poignant moments occur when Heidi realizes that her friends have changed so much that she barely recognizes them. In one scene, Heidi meets her friend Susan (Emmy Smith) for lunch. Susan once spent time on a Montana commune for women. Now a Hollywood executive, she speaks in a bewildering dialect of entertainment industry power talk.

The play could have retained much of its political relevance without a miscalculation on the part of director Bill Patton. Scoop (Justin Dray) is an egotistical journalist Heidi meets in 1968 at a dance for Eugene McCarthy volunteers. Patton allows Dray to play the role with such self-conscious twitchiness, there’s almost nothing endearing about Scoop when you scratch away his bad-boy dialogue and look at the person inside. The play doesn’t work because it’s difficult to imagine why Heidi burns such a flame for this guy. This undermines much of the feminism in the script because Heidi is never faced with tough choices when it comes to Scoop and pursuing her career.

Erin Thomas has become Richmond’s go-to actress for brainy but insecure young women. Her growing maturity as a performer is particularly apparent when she isn’t speaking during a scene. We learn almost as much about her character from her physicality as from her dialogue. Though she displays little of the prissiness that’s so evident in the script, she is a charming and believable Heidi.

There are other fine performances, including Fernando Rivadeneira as a pediatrician who is Heidi’s best friend. And Stephanie Kelley plays several hilarious characters — a radical with a hairline trigger and a shallow television host with a 24-karat smile.

Adrian E. Jimenez’s set consists of hinged panels that stagehands reposition between the scenes. In theory, it’s not a bad idea for a set. But the constant reconfiguration of the panels does nothing to compensate for a script that is long-winded by today’s standards. Contemporary scene transitions (influenced by Hollywood and MTV) are usually not so clunky.

As long as we’re making “Sex and the City” connections, perhaps we should raid the television show and find Heidi a man. Not that she needs one, but she could certainly have some fun with Petrovsky, the character from the final season played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. He’s cultured, speaks several languages and best of all, he’s an artist. What more could a prissy, Vassar-educated art historian want? He’s not exactly the most emotionally available person, but compared to Scoop, he’s a bundle of warmth. And that’s exactly what this play needs. S

“The Heidi Chronicles” continues through March 28 at the Firehouse Theatre. Tickets cost $20, call 355-2001.

Letters to the editor may be sent to: letters@styleweekly.com

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