“Heathers” as a History Play

I took my teenage son to see Heathers at San Diego City College’s Saville Theatre. He knows the story – we’ve seen it before – and loves the music.

It was a great show, exploring themes of teen friendship, romance, and rage. But, the only way to stage it – the only way I’ve ever seen it staged – is as a period piece, set permanently in 1989. Heathers takes place in a neon-colored blaze of pre-Columbine innocence and ignorance.

So, while the play resonated with middle-aged me, my high schooler said he found the characters and situations unrealistic and remote, as if he were watching historical fiction. 1989 might as well have been the Wars of the Roses. It’s only a matter of time before Heathers becomes as dated as The King and I. Which is a pity, because the themes are painfully relevant today, or would be, if directors were allowed the latitude to fully explore them in ways that connect with today’s audiences.

It may be that, because Shakespeare’s plays are continually reinvented, the edgiest piece of post-modern stagecraft about the teen experience may be Romeo & Juliet.

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