Wendy Wasserstein, playwright, Died at 55


Wendy Wasserstein died on January 30, 2006 at the age of 55, she was an American playwright.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to Morris Wasserstein on October 18, 1950 a wealthy textile executive, and his wife, Lola Schleifer, who moved to the United States from Poland when her father was accused of being a spy.

Wasserstein “once described her mother as being like ‘Auntie Mame'”.

Lola Wasserstein reportedly inspired some of her daughter’s characters.

Her maternal grandfather was Simon Schleifer, a yeshiva teacher in Włocławek, Poland, who moved to Paterson, New Jersey and became a high school principal.

Claims that Schleifer was a playwright is probably apocryphal, as contemporaries did not recall this and the assertion only appeared once Wasserstein had won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Wasserstein’s first production of note was Uncommon Women and Others (her graduate thesis at Yale), a play which reflected her experiences as a student at, and an alumna of, Mount Holyoke College.

The play was work shopped at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 1977, and a full version of the play was produced in 1977 Off-Broadway withGlenn Close, Jill Eikenberry, and Swoosie Kurtz playing the lead roles.

The play was subsequently produced for PBSwith Meryl Streep replacing Close. While at Yale, she co-wrote a musical with fellow student Christopher Durang,When Dinah Shore Ruled the Earth.

Wasserstein is described as an author of women’s identity crises. “Her heroines – intelligent and successful but also riddled with self-doubt – sought enduring love a little ambivalently, but they did not always find it, and their hard-earned sense of self-worth was often shadowed by the frustrating knowledge that American women’s lives continued to be measured by their success at capturing the right man.”

In a conversation with novelist A. M. Homes, Wasserstein said that these heroines are the starting points for her plays: “I write from character, so it begins with people talking, which is why I like writing plays.”

In a slightly different key, her 1983 one-act play Tender Offer, produced at the Ensemble Theater, explores poignantly the relationship between a girl and her father.

Like Uncommon Women and Others, Isn’t It Romantic, presented by Playwrights Horizons in New York in 1983, explores upper-middle class, expensively educated, single women, but Janie and Harriet are six years older than their counterparts in Uncommon Women, and they are out in the world, searching for love and professional fulfillment in Manhattan in the face of changing values.

While Janie is the daughter of overprotective Jewish parents who desperately want her to get married, Harriet is the daughter of a WASP professional woman who encourages her to pursue her career.

Other plays include The Sisters Rosensweig, An American Daughter and Third.

Her 1989 play, The Heidi Chronicles, won a Tony Award for best play and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Though lauded for its comedic merits, Wasserstein’s work explored a deeper issue: the complex politics of independent American women living in a society that values traditional roles and expectations.