Jewish Journal


January 2, 2003

Wendy Wasserstein to Give a Little Peek


Fertility therapy, Jewish identity, pressure to marry, single parenting. All are themes that flow through both the personal life and creative work of playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony in 1998 for "The Heidi Chronicles."

In a rare peek behind the curtains on Broadway, Wasserstein will share some scenes out of her own theater experience at the Newport Beach Public Library on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. The $36 cost per person includes a complimentary copy of Wasserstein's latest book, "Shiksa Goddess (Or How I Spent My Forties)," essays chronicling challenges facing contemporary women in America.

A more intimate dinner with Wasserstein for patrons of the Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program will precede the library event. It will take place in the dining area of Corona del Mar's Heath Food Emporium and will be an opportunity to question Wasserstein directly, said Arie Katz, founder of the Orange County Community Scholar Program, which organized the event.

Wasserstein's first book of essays in 10 years is the result of a "to do" list composed of items left over from when she turned 30. The list included perennial resolutions: lose weight, exercise, read more, improve female friendships, improve male friendships and a holdover from a second-grade to do list: become a better citizen. The more recent additions were: move, fall in love, decide about a baby.

Each quest and midlife obsession is annotated with Wasserstein's well-known gift for prose. Reviewers called her observations humorous and disarming in their honesty.

"Wendy Wasserstein reveals in inimitably witty fashion the hard work that underpins her glamorous playwright life -- and charts hilariously her tussles with personal trainers, directors, philistine congressmen and, of course, her mother.... A remarkable volume of essays, with much wisdom and some moral outrage detectable in a rollercoaster of theatrical thrills and dietary spills," said Flora Fraser, excerpted at the Borzoi Reader, an online publication of the book's publisher, Alfred K. Knopf.

At least 200 people are expected at the library, having already purchased tickets for her previously scheduled appearance last month. Wasserstein, who was unavailable for an interview, postponed because of illness. Should demand outstrip the library's capacity, the venue may be changed, Katz said.

Within the theater community, Wasserstein is known as a mentor to other writers and for using her stature in institutions and in government for arts advocacy.

"Her presence on Broadway gave her a platform that she used to benefit others more than herself," said Jerry E. Patch, who years ago directed a college production of Wasserstein's first play about her roommates at Mount Holyoke College, "Uncommon Women and Others." Patch serves as South Coast Repertory Theater's dramaturg.

Her earliest work won accolades for capturing the impact of the women's liberation movement on the middle class. "When change happens, it's sometimes difficult to chronicle," Patch said. "Wendy writes plays that are really insightful and quietly revolutionary. She makes that kind of change accessible."

A native of Brooklyn, Wasserstein graduated from Mount Holyoke and the Yale School of Drama. She wrote a string of successful, award-winning plays, including "Uncommon Women," "The Sisters Rosensweig," "An American Daughter" and her most recent, "Old Money."

In an offstage version of life imitating art, Wasserstein is taking a cue from her famous heroine, Heidi, who became a single parent. At 48, Wasserstein gave birth to her first child, Lucy Jane, in September 1999.

Patch as well as others suggest that Wasserstein's work speaks for a generation of first-wave feminists, who assented to the dogma that family and career were mutually exclusive. Personally, Wasserstein rejects such doctrine.

Just listen to her answering machine. A husky voice that signs off is joined by the squeaky soprano of a child's voice. They slowly chant the ABCs in unison.

To purchase tickets or more information, call (949) 717-3890.

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