Monday, January 30, 2006

Uncommon Woman

So Wendy Wasserstein died today. I found out, in a setting I'd find hokey if I couldn't vouch for its veracity. All the playwrights from Drama School went to the local arts high school and spoke to the theater students about writing (ours and theirs) and art and life. It was fun, probably partly for the ego-stroking of getting asked questions as though I had any business answering them, and part of it because talking to high school students about writing plays is almost unavoidably fun. And then, on our 10 minute break, L. said to me, "Wendy Wasserstein died today."

I finished up talking to the kids, and walked home alone, as the weather (and, I swear, it happened like this, heavy-handedness be damned) turned cold and a light drizzle started. I read her NY Times obit. sent to be by my mom, and just sat there in the Drama Library stunned by a lot of things. By the fact that she's my mom's age, and graduated from a Seven Sisters School in the same year. By the fact that she just had a play go up at Lincoln Center which dared, in an era that produces such deep fare as "Bush is Bad," to implicate a liberal baby-boomer for prejudice against Republicans. By the fact that she has a 6-year-old girl and that's fucking young to lose 100% of your parents. And by the fact that I still, somehow, found the Times and the AP obituaries condescending. Incomplete. Maybe they always say only the most obvious things -- Thomas Edison, inventor of light bulb, or whatever -- but still. Funny feminist isn't enough. Her plays are heartbreaking, too, especially if you've been paying attention to women, to people, for the past 30 years.

I directed "Uncommon Women and Others" my sophomore year of college. It was the first play I ever directed and it her final play from Drama School. When I gave the scripts to my actors and we had a read-through, one of the women -- a fantastically smart, perceptive, and acerbic person -- asked me "So, you're not planning on doing this straight, are you? I mean, what's your interpretation?" I was taken aback and mumbled something, but the truth was, yeah, I was going to direct it pretty damn straight, and dare audiences in 1999 not to see themselves up there. And I think it worked.

A couple of years later I was at a very nice event held by a very retarded "arts" society and Wasserstein was there to pay homage to the Andre Bishop, the guest of honor. Beloved Husband (at that point, actually, Beloved Boyfriend) kept kicking me under the table to make me go up to her and talk, and I eventually stammered something like "Wow, you're really great" before she went to assume her rightful place next to Natalie Portman. Oh well, he assured me, you'll meet her again.

The last play I directed in college (and, who knows, perhaps ever) was "Three Sisters" and BH pointed out to me a few years ago that in her book, "Shiksa Goddess," Wasserstein says that every play she's ever written has the same plot as "Three Sisters." It's true, too. Put that in your obituary.

2 comments:

Nitpicker said...

I'm glad BH made you go up & talk to her, even if all you could do is gush. She deserved to be gushed over!
Three people came into my office today to tell me, knowing that I follow theatre news. And none of them (only you) mentioned the 6-year old daughter who's now an orphan. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Nitpicker said...

And I didn't know that about "Three Sisters." But re three of her plays I've seen--Uncommon Women (your version), Sisters Rosensweig (sp?), and Isn't It Romantic--yes, it's true. Not so sure about the last one (Third), though--at least not in the Theatre J version.
People did condescend to her. When I saw her at the Corcoran, the man in front of me said to his companion, in a mannered way that made me want to hit him, "you'll find her rather--endearing." But--the work is there, and will be for a long time.