KPBS AIRDATE: June 09, 2006
This could’ve been called Wendy Wasserstein Week in San Diego. In tribute to the late, much lamented playwright, who died in January at age 55, staged readings of three Wasserstein plays were presented at North Coast Repertory Theatre, in conjunction with the 13th annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival.
Wasserstein was the voice of her generation, and a groundbreaker for female playwrights, opening doors for women to come, who would also write about the humor and heartache of smart, driven women who wanted it all – a husband, a family and a successful career. Wasserstein herself only managed to achieve two of the three. Seven years ago, at age 48, she had a baby – its father undisclosed; it was a difficult birth, the joy of her life, and an added legacy. She had zillions of friends and followers. But she never found a fulfilling relationship with the Man of her Dreams. That touch of melancholy courses through many of her plays, particularly “Isn’t It Romantic,” which was the reading I was privileged to be part of. The main character, Janie Blumberg, an obvious stand-in for the playwright, is a funny, brainy, slightly overweight writer who won’t settle for the nice Jewish doctor who doesn’t want her work to interfere with her life. Her equally smart, talented friend compromises completely, and Janie feels betrayed. In “Uncommon Women and Others,” Wasserstein’s 1977 breakout play, five alumnae of Mt. Holyoke (Wasserstein’s alma mater) compare their youthful aspirations to their actual, less-than uncommon, lives.
And then there’s “The Heidi Chronicles,” which mirrored the evolution of Wendy Wasserstein, and of the women’s movement, from the 1960s to the 1980s. It won her the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1989, and made her the first woman ever to win a Tony for Best Play.
Wasserstein’s final play, “Third,” premiered at Lincoln Center last fall. And this spring, her first novel, “Elements of Style,” was published. In a sadly prescient move, the Old Globe put “The Sisters Rosensweig” on its summer schedule. A Jewish riff on Chekhov, it concerns three sisters who find their way back to their culture and their family bond.
Through each phase of her life and work, Wasserstein insightfully and often hilariously reflected the concerns of smart, driven, liberated baby boomers; but her themes are universal. Though she garnered fame and success, she always had time for charity work and young people. In 1998, she started a project called Open Doors, to bring New York City schoolchildren to the theater. Contributing to it is another way to honor her legacy. I did. And I’m glad. Now, couldn’t we use the same sort of project here in San Diego?
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.