EW remembers Wendy Wasserstein
EW remembers Wendy Wasserstein -- Here's what the entertainment world will miss most about the Pultizer Prize winning playwright
The title of Wendy Wasserstein’s first Off Broadway play, staged way back in 1973, was Any Woman Can’t, which is ironic, because the rest of her career could have been titled Any Woman Can. Wasserstein — who died of lymphoma on Jan. 30 at age 55 — won a Pulitzer Prize for 1989’s The Heidi Chronicles. At 48, the steadfastly single New Yorker gave birth to a daughter, Lucy Jane. She worked tirelessly in not-for-profit theaters and wrote a screenplay (1998’s The Object of My Affection), a novel (Elements of Style, due in April), and scores of humor-laced essays on subjects as diverse as the arts in America and the size of her thighs.
Throughout her four-decade, ridiculously prolific career, Wasserstein charted the struggles of women and the course of feminism, starting with 1977’s collegiate dramedy Uncommon Women and Others. (Classic line: ”Our entire being is programmed for male approval. Now I, on the other hand, want abandonment.”) Recalls close friend and longtime producer André Bishop: ”I remember thinking, I have not read plays by a woman about women such as these before… The seriousness was juxtaposed with warmth and a tremendous sense of comedy.”
As Wasserstein matured, so did her characters. Her most notable work, The Heidi Chronicles, followed an art historian from high school in the mid-’60s through single motherhood in the ’80s. ”She spoke from a generational point of view, but it became relevant to other women,” says original Chronicles cast member Sarah Jessica Parker. ”Women of my age struggle with the same issues — work and parenthood and choices, choices, choices.” The exploration of these struggles continued in The Sisters Rosensweig (1993) and her final play, 2005’s Third, about a fiftysomething professor grappling with menopause, liberalism, and plagiarism. ”Underneath the charm and wit was a hardworking woman who passionately believed in the political scene and education,” says Bishop.
So much so that Parker recalls swapping stories about Manhattan schools, mother to mother. ”She spoke at my niece’s graduation last year,” says Parker. ”And I thought, Oh, how lucky you women are. This is what sent you out into the next chapter of your life: Wendy Wasserstein’s words.”