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October 06, 2011 - Image 74

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-10-06

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:arts & entertainment

You are cordially invited to the Jewish Ensemble Theatre's

7th, Animal Behind the Scene& Gab/

Mack/eine tikH° Mandeil Berman/

Biographer

and Volunteer of the Year

Julie Salamon:

Sue Curti&

"Wasserstein became

the quintessential

Wilda* Ocaker 17, 2011 at

baby boomer."

Featuring a, Fats Waller Revue by

Understanding
Wendy Wasserstein

Waddle& Tria

kiin/

at the home of..

een, Vermelin/

k Entertainment $ I 3 &per *ma

For information on the event or ad journal,

(248) 788-2900

41
")

stage and youth outreach programs.

1708530

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fresh rro- kn

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58

October 6 • 2011

iN

Secret pieces of playwright's life
found in compelling new biography.

Tom Teicholz
L.A. Jewish Journal

W

hen the Pulitzer- and Tony
Award-winning play-
wright Wendy Wasserstein
— beloved for her plays The Heidi
Chronicles, The Sisters Rosensweig and
Isn't it Romantic? — died in 2006 at
age 55, Broadway dimmed its lights
in her honor. Five years later, Julie
Salamon's page-turning biography
Wendy and the Lost Boys (Penguin
Press) sheds light on the public and
private selves of this author, whose own
family dramas were no less gripping
than those she wrote for the stage.
The title's reference to Peter Pan is
apt on many levels: Wasserstein was
named for J.M. Barrie's lost boys' sur-
rogate mother; she also became the
chronicler for a generation that didn't
want to grow up. And, throughout her
life, she surrounded herself with unat-
tainable men, companions whom she
could not commit to or who, being gay,
were romantically out of reach. When
she was 48, Wasserstein chose to
become a single mother, and the iden-
tity of the father of her child, whose
premature birth she chronicled in the
New Yorker, remains a secret.
Wasserstein's life illustrates the
post-immigrant Jewish experience.
Her parents' origins were like folklore
from a distant past, and their drive
to make it in America was manifest
in their move up from Brooklyn to
Manhattan.

For Wasserstein and her peers,
assimilation was neither a goal nor
a fear — it had already been accom-
plished. Even though she started her
schooling at the Yeshiva of Flatbush,
she soon moved to Manhattan's pri-
vate Calhoun School, then on to Mount
Holyoke College in Massachusetts and
later, City University of New York for
graduate work, where she was taught
and mentored by Joseph Heller, and
finally, to Yale School of Drama, where
she earned her M.F.A. degree
For Wasserstein, who came of age in
the "me decade" 1970s, the issue was
identity, not religion. No doors were
closed because she was Jewish; on the
contrary, Wasserstein and her charac-
ters suffered from too many options
— wondering whether the things they
so wished for (careers) were what they
really wanted after all (instead of fam-
ily). The constant refrain in her work
is: What was the cost of the trade-offs?
Salamon was given access to
Wasserstein's papers and conducted
more than 300 interviews with the
playwright's friends, family and
theater associates. She has done a
masterful job of reporting and weav-
ing a narrative portrait of a woman
to whom her audience felt such a per-
sonal connection that they regularly
stopped her on the street to engage her
in conversation.
Wasserstein's story is also that of a
tight circle of playwrights, directors,
producers and actors that included
Christopher Durang, Terrence McNally,

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