Boyd Gaines and Bryce Pinkham share much in common. They are both acclaimed stage actors, they are both well-spoken, and they even dress and eat similarly: Clad in button-down shirts and matching pullover sweaters, the duo ordered the same Mediterranean salad for lunch. Often following each other's statements with "exactly," "absolutely" or friendly laughter, Gaines and Pinkham compared experiences of starring in the two Broadway productions of The Heidi Chronicles, Wendy Wasserstein's award-winning account of the life of a feminist art historian.
Food and clothing choices aren't the only things the two share: When discussing their performances, Gaines and Pinkham found many more similarities in their approach to performing Heidi's gay best friend.
A four-time Tony Award winner, Gaines made his Broadway debut in the 1989 production of The Heidi Chronicles, earning his first Tony for Featured Actor in a Play in the role of the ambitious and witty aspiring pediatrician.
Pinkham, a Tony nominee for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder who has also appeared on Broadway in Ghost the Musical and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, stars in current the revival with Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs. Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon directs. Wasserstein, who received the Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama, modeled Peter after several of her good friends. (The first line Peter speaks to Heidi is inspired by the first thing Christopher Durang said to Wasserstein in class at Yale Drama School.) Throughout her life, Wasserstein was known for her expansive network of friends, which is reflected in The Heidi Chronicles, especially in Peter and Heidi's relationship when Peter tells Wendy, "In our lives, our friends are our families."
"To me, that's the gist of the piece," Pinkham said. "That line itself was the reason I felt like I had to do the play. That felt so personal." Describing himself as a "transplant to New York for a specific profession, ambitious, career oriented," he added, "My family's in California. They're still my family, but really in my day-to-day life, my friends are my family. What Heidi and Peter go through is trying to find out how to keep that friendship vital and re-invest in it."
The focus on relationships is continued offstage; Pinkham shared a post-show ritual of the revival cast: After certain performances, the cast sings karaoke together. (Pinkham added that he and co-star Moss shared a duet on "Part Of Your World" from the Disney animated film "The Little Mermaid.")
After meeting at a high school dance, Heidi and Peter form a long-lasting friendship that continues through graduate and medical school, Peter's coming out and the AIDS crisis as the two seek personal and professional fulfillment. In fact, Heidi and Peter's devotion to each other is a linchpin in the play.
"Pam and I agreed early on that the goal was to make [Peter] perfect for Heidi in every way but one," Pinkham shared. "That's actually the beauty and the tragedy in the scene where he comes out to her. The sort of beauty and tragedy of that scene is they are perfect for each other — with the exception of this one thing that keeps them apart."
"There's just this one thing," Gaines echoed, adding that he found performing the scene where Peter comes out to Heidi to be challenging. "I loved doing that scene, but I remember struggling with it early on. For much of what Bryce is talking about, trying to find the right language — not protesting too much — not overplaying the hand... Getting back to something Bryce said, which I think is absolutely right, I always thought that Peter is equally aware that they would be perfect together."
"It's actually as painful a truth to him as it is to her that now they actually can't be married," Pinkham added. "Heidi was sort of always his — not back-up plan — but that was where the dreamscape led to after school until somewhere in school he realized the truth about himself." Despite being unable to be together romantically, Peter and Heidi remain a constant presence in each other's lives as they live through tumultuous decades of political and social change. One scene that marks their impressive professional achievements is a group interview on a television show alongside another long-term friend, Scoop Rosenbaum (Jason Biggs). Both Gaines and Pinkham described that scene of the play as particularly challenging.
"It took us a while and it took me an audience or two to feel comfortable with that scene," Pinkham said. "I didn't know: How am I sending this up? Reading the script, it says, 'In outrageous mock camp.'"
"I remember more when we moved to the [Broadway theatre]," Gaines recalled. "We kept going, 'Where are the cameras?'"
The "outrageous mock camp" Pinkham references comes into play when Peter is encouraged by the TV host to "take his sexuality as far as he can" onscreen, to which Peter responds with a display of stereotypically flamboyant behavior. As the interview ends, with the host asking, "Who knows what we do if Peter Pan flew in our window?", Peter mouths silently to the audience, "I do!"
"That might be from me," Gaines said when Pinkham mentioned the scene. "There was no line, so I turned to one of the cameras when she asked, 'Who knows?' and mouthed, 'I do.'"
"That's a beautiful gift," Pinkham said, laughing. "I had no idea."
Despite the performance in that scene, the role of Peter is, as Gaines put it, "a gay best friend who was not a cliché."
"Boyd just put it perfectly," Pinkham added. "He's a gay best friend who's not a cliché. Initially, I was admittedly trepidatious about playing the gay best friend. But... gay is addendum to best friend. He's the best friend who is gay. And, actually, she wrote a really beautiful best friend. The fact that he's gay is not the defining characteristic, which is revolutionary, I think, at the time that she wrote it." "Historically in plays, gay characters tended to be flamboyant, closeted, persecuted, and here you suddenly had a person who was by far the most stable person in the play," Gaines said. "Professionally, he's helping people. Someone asked me, 'Are you much like your character?' and I said, 'This person's so much better than I am!'"
"I like that," Pinkham said, adding, "I was like, 'She gave Peter some of the best stuff.' She gave this amalgamation of her best friends some of the greatest lines in the show. The audience attaches to him so quickly and likes him so much. [During] the first few performances I went, 'Wow. What a gift this part is.'"
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)