Uncommon Women, and Others

by Wendy Wasserstein

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Uncommon Women, and Others traces the choices and frustrations of a group of young women attending an exclusive women’s college in the early 1970’s, a time of social change in which the traditional family expectations for young women were giving way to new possibilities. The women are confused by the options open to them after graduation. The play depends less on plot than on character groupings. The characters form a spectrum of women, with Susie on one end of the spectrum and Carter on the other. Susie is a cheerleader and organizer who, without reflecting on life, bounces through a world of elegant teas, steady boyfriends, and career plans. Carter, on the other hand, is a withdrawn woman who lives solely in the world of the imagination.

Between these two peripheral characters are the five main characters, who are confused about their purposes and goals in life. On one side of the group is Kate, who wants to be a lawyer but feels that such a career choice will compel her to accept a lifetime of boring routines. On the other side is Samantha, a child/woman who will settle for marriage to a man whom she can encourage and stand behind. In the middle is the attractive Muffet, who does not know whether to wait for her prince or to strike out on her own. Balancing Kate and Samantha are two women who do not know what they want. The raunchy Rita does not want to live through a man, nor does she want the business world to transform her into the duplicate of a power-hungry man. The self-conscious Holly, pressured by her parents to lose weight and marry well, keeps postponing her choices.

The drama opens on a reunion of the five women and then flashes back six years to their senior year in college. This device allows for a contrast between the women’s present conditions and their past expectations. A man’s voice representing the male-dominated world spouts ambiguous clichés about the responsibilities of educated women; at the same time, scenes of the women’s college gatherings, ranging from formal teas to late-night chats, are depicted onstage. These scenes are punctuated by three rambling and confused monologues delivered by Muffet, Kate, and Holly.

The contrasts in the play’s structure are heightened by the contrast among the women and their lives. Samantha is celebrating the birthday of a stuffed animal, while Holly is putting cream into a diaphragm. The women sip sherry and fold their napkins at formal gatherings, then go off and discuss masturbation and the possibilities of male menstruation. These contrasts are further reflected in the women’s inner turmoil. Sometimes they are self-assured; at other times, one woman wishes she were like another. These contrasting moods are captured in the play’s tone, which balances sensitive moments with sharp comic exchanges.

Although they have seen the frilly world of feminine charm classes come to an end, the women are still baffled six years out of college. Holly is still collecting options that range from having a baby to becoming a birdwatcher, and Rita is waiting until she is forty-five to achieve success. Uncommon Women, and Others brings to the stage a series of sympathetic and ingratiating young characters, a community of women who can share their emotions, express their insecurities, and play out their fantasies together as they march off into an uncertain future.

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