Feminist playwright Wasserstein dies

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright established herself as the mouthpiece of an entire generation of baby boomer women.

By TALYA HALKIN
January 31, 2006 02:39
2 minute read.
wasserstein 88

wasserstein 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein Wasserstein, who was born in 1950 as the youngest of four children, grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1971, she studied creative writing at City College. In 1976, after receiving an MFA in Drama at Yale University, Wasserstein moved back to Manhattan, where she established herself as the mouthpiece of an entire generation of baby boomer women, whose lives she chronicled in a manner at the same time comic and wry. In 1999, at age 48, Wasserstein gave birth to daughter Lucy Jane. In her dozen plays, as well as in her writing for television and movies and her personal essays, Wasserstein explored a world of heroines not unlike herself - smart, sensitive, independent and ambitious women who came of age during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, and struggled to define their identity and place in a fast-changing world. With a mixture of humor and empathy, Wasserstein recounted the trials and tribulations of professional careers, motherhood, family relations, and the search for love - the themes that inevitably preoccupied the women she wrote about. "My writing is so character driven," Wasserstein wrote in a 1995 essay. "I really take time to get to know the people who are in my plays; I understand their narrowness, their wideness. I have an intimacy with their cultural backgrounds and a feeling for how that affects their lives. Wasserstein's career debuted in 1977 with Uncommon Women and Others, a play about a group of Mount Holyoke graduates. In 1989, she won the Pulitzer for The Heidi Chronicles, which followed the eternally single art historian Heidi Holland over a period of twenty years, ending with her decision to become a single mother - a decade before Wasserstein's life followed the same path. In The Sisters Rosensweig, another of Wasserstein's best-known plays, three middle-aged Jewish sisters with different attitudes toward their roots meet to celebrate a birthday in London, as the identity crisis of two of the sisters comes up against the self-assured materialism of the third. Her latest play, Third, stars an older variation on the character of Heidi - a liberal college professor who struggles to come to terms with a young male student who represents, in her eyes, America's conservative establishment. Wasserstein's older sister, Sandra, died of breast cancer at 60. In Third, the chief character, Laurie, has a friend who is battling with cancer. This last play, as one critic remarked in The New York Times, "exhales a gentle breath of autumn, a rueful awareness of death and of seasons past." "You hope that what you understand and know is not just of value to you alone. I want my plays to be open and interesting to as many people as possible," Wasserstein wrote in a passage that emblematizes her social awareness, human compassion and wry, gently self-mocking humor. "I wouldn't want an audience of only upper-class Jewish women to come to The Sisters Rosensweig. I wouldn't want an audience of only feminists for The Heidi Chronicles. I wouldn't want an audience of all Wendy Wassersteins for any of my plays. That would be terrible!" Wasserstein is survived by her daughter, mother, sister and brother.

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