Monday, February 27, 2006

Wendy Wasserstein's cautionary tale

Yes, Phibian Salamander is going to talk about the death of one of the best feminist/post-feminist, BabyBoomer playright. No, I didn't have a stroke - and no I didn't take my medication.
Ms. Wasserstein's best-known plays, "The Heidi Chronicles" (a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner), "The Sisters Rosensweig" (a Tony nominee) and "An American Daughter" all played on Broadway and around the U.S. ... (she gained) considerable popularity (as a) writing comic yet pointed plays and essays about the nagging choices and disappointments that many Baby Boom women encountered on the path to "having it all,"...
She came from a great first generation success story.
Ms. Wasserstein was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 18, 1950, the youngest of five siblings. Her father was a textile manufacturer, her mother an amateur dancer. In addition to her daughter, Ms. Wasserstein is survived by her mother, Lola Wasserstein; her brothers, Abner and Bruce, the chairman of the investment banking giant Lazard and the owner of New York magazine; and her sister Georgette Levis of Vermont. The family moved to Manhattan when Ms. Wasserstein was 12. After earning her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College in 1971, she studied creative writing at City College with Joseph Heller and Israel Horovitz. Her first play, "Any Woman Can't," found its way to Playwrights Horizons, then a small Off Broadway company, and was produced in 1973, shortly before she began to study playwriting in earnest at the Yale University School of Drama. ("My parents only let me go to drama school because it was Yale," she said in an interview for the magazine Bomb. "They thought I'd marry a lawyer.")
She had other plans though.
Her career took off in 1977 with "Uncommon Women and Others," begun while she was earning her 1976 master's degree at the Yale School of Drama. It assessed the glowing yet uncertain hopes of a group of friends during and after college at Mount Holyoke, the elite women's school where Wasserstein, the youngest of four children in a wealthy, high-achieving New York family, earned her bachelor's degree in 1971.

"When we're 25, we're going to be pretty … incredible," says Rita, one of the play's brainy and attractive collegiate clique. "All right, I'll give us an extra five years for emotional and career development. When we're 30, we're going to be pretty … amazing." By play's end, six years after graduation, the former dorm mates have gotten an inkling that the path to fulfilling careers and relationships may not be quite so easy, and the timetable for an incredible life has been pushed back to 40 or 45.
She fought hard for what she believed to be true.
"The women's movement, the movement that said, 'Your voice is worthwhile,' is the only reason I feel like a person," Wasserstein told People magazine in 1990. "But what still needs to change is that women shouldn't beat themselves up for their choices — for being a mother or a single mother, or being a playwright, or being beautiful or not being beautiful. It's important that there isn't one … slot."
But reality, is reality, and it started to be reflected no only in The Heidi Chronicles, but in other of her works.
"Isn't It Romantic," an off-Broadway hit in 1983, grew out of her parents' pushy desire to see her married to a good, solid, Jewish doctor or lawyer. Instead, Wasserstein remained single all her life, writing comic essays about her romantic setbacks and jokingly referring to a series of close, long-term male friends as her "husbands."
Time is a funny thing. It doesn't wait for anyone - and no one is special. What you won't find easily on a quick search for information about Wendy, is that in the end, (unlike the character in Heidi who adopts, "..she longed to love a child of her own." said the LATimes in a now unavailable obit. She underwent several in-vitro fertilization treatments (unmarried) and finally gave birth at 48 to a daughter.
Wendy Wasserstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and considerable popularity writing comic yet pointed plays and essays about the nagging choices and disappointments that many Baby Boom women encountered on the path to "having it all," died Monday. She was 55.

Wasserstein died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, according to Andre Bishop, artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater. The cause of death was lymphoma.
Cancer too her. 55-48=7. She left a daughter and orphan. There is a finite window to have a child, to have a career, to try to have a marriage, to try to have a life. We don't pick our time - we never have more than we need. A very talented women, and 55 is young today. A loss for all; a tragedy for friends, family, and a very sad 7 year old girl. Carpe Diem.

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