Playwright Wendy Wasserstein went ahead and called her new essay collection "Shiksa Goddess." But not to worry, the title essay -- a spoof on discovering her Episcopalian "roots" -- and 34 others prove that Wasserstein remains the same witty Jewish cultural critic her fans have come to love through her plays, like "The Sisters Rosensweig" and the Pulitzer prize-winning "The Heidi Chronicles."
The essays in "Shiksa Goddess: Or, How I Spent My Forties," are culled from a decade's worth of magazine writing and range from highly personal (the premature birth of daughter Lucy Jane) to historical (a brief, admiring biography of Martha Entenmann, "the czarina of all the metropolitan strudels"). In between are essays on personal trainers, life in the theater, women's friendships and her mother -- "The funniest woman I know, except for when she calls me," Wasserstein said last week at the Writer's Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills.
Wasserstein, appearing with actress Jamie Lee Curtis (who portrayed Heidi in the cable movie version of "The Heidi Chronicles") as part of the Writer's Bloc Conversation Series on June 11, told the 500-plus-member audience of her current projects, including the musical version of "An American in Paris" and a television project with Curtis. Wasserstein recounted past experiences in Hollywood, including her encounter with a movie producer who advised the Tony- and Pulitzer-prize winner to make changes on her work because "Drama is conflict," the producer said. The Writer's Guild Theatre audience roared, as they did throughout the evening of Wasserstein sharing anecdotes, many of which appear in her new book.
Wasserstein writes often about New York, but the Los Angeles audience laughed no less for it. Her undiminished feminist insight clearly appeals to men as well as women. And though the essays in "Shiksa Goddess" concern events and observations firmly rooted in the past decade, her humor and observations hold. She may be a "Shiksa" only in satire, but to her fans she really is a "Goddess."