Wendy Wasserstein Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226313-Wasserstein.jpg Wendy Wasserstein Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Wendy Wasserstein was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 18, 1950. She was the youngest of the five children of Morris W. Wasserstein, a textile manufacturer, and Lola Scheifer Wasserstein, an amateur dancer, both immigrants from Central Europe. An awkward young girl and a less than elegant dresser, Wendy developed a sense of humor as a survival skill. When she was thirteen, her family moved to the fashionable East Side of Manhattan, where she attended the Calhoun School, an exclusive girls’ prep school. In order to be excused from athletics, she wrote the school’s musical revue for the mother/daughter luncheons. She also studied at the June Taylor School of Dance and frequently attended Broadway shows.

Wasserstein attended Mount Holyoke College, where she studied to be a congressional intern. Her interest in theater, however, was sparked by a summer playwriting course at Smith College and by her junior year excursion at Amherst College, where she participated in theatrical productions. After earning a bachelor of arts degree in history from Mount Holyoke, she received a master of arts in creative writing from the City University of New York, where she studied under novelist Joseph Heller and playwright Israel Horowitz. In 1973, her play Any Woman Can’t, a satire about a woman whose failure as a tap dancer leads her to marry an egotistical sexist, was produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, a theater that would play a significant part in her career.

In 1973, Wasserstein was accepted by both the Columbia School of Business and the Yale University School of Drama, and she chose to attend Yale. While at Yale, she wrote Happy...

(The entire section is 685 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Wasserstein brought to the stage the hopes and frustrations of modern American women. Her plays are about the quest for identity and the struggle of women to fulfill their personal ambitions without being molded by social pressures; she depicted a generation reflecting on its lost ideals and examining new possibilities. Wasserstein’s dramas focus on character instead of plot and are thought-provoking without being preachy, comedic without sacrificing sentiment, and theatrical without losing believability. Critics who favor more revolutionary dramas about women find her plays too traditional and trivializing, but those who champion her works find them stimulating as well as entertaining.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Wendy Wasserstein attended college at Mount Holyoke. Her first play to gain critical attention, Uncommon Women and Others, relates the experiences six alumni from that all-female college have upon being graduated from their supportive environment and entering the “real world,” where their abilities and identities as intelligent women were often denigrated or denied.

Wasserstein was raised by an extraordinary and flamboyant mother, Lola, and a quieter, though no less supportive, father, Morris. She used them as models for the pushy Jewish parents in Isn’t It Romantic, which is about a woman who chooses to remain single rather than marry the Jewish doctor of her mother’s dreams. This play entertainingly dramatizes how liberated women hoped to attain equality and fulfillment.

The Heidi Chronicles won the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1989. This play explores the life of a feminist art historian from grade school dances, through woman’s consciousness raising, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) crisis, her problems with men, and her eventual decision to adopt a child. Wasserstein, who considered herself a “professional malcontent,” was suddenly inundated with flowers and awards. The play was hailed as a milestone in feminist playwriting, documenting a generation’s sadness after the disappointing outcome of the women’s movement.

Along with Wendy, Lola and Morris reared three other children, all of whom have been exceptionally successful in the high-pressure fields of business and banking. Wasserstein uses the worlds her siblings inhabit, and the bondings they formed as adults, to good effect in The Sisters Rosensweig. The play shows how Jews still perceive themselves as outsiders in modern society. Wasserstein, having enjoyed the success of The Heidi Chronicles, specifically set out to create a hopeful, romantic ending to this crowd-pleasing work, the most highly structured of her plays.

While critics have occasionally been less than kind to Wasserstein, seeing her scripts as period pieces, she deserves attention as a feminist pioneer. Her plays dramatize a unique perspective on the women’s movement; they also describe the search for religious identity.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Wendy Wasserstein was born on October 18, 1950, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the fourth and youngest child of Morris W. Wasserstein, a successful textile manufacturer, and Lola (Schleifer) Wasserstein, a housewife and nonprofessional dancer, both Jewish émigrés from central Europe. When she was thirteen, Wasserstein’s family moved to Manhattan, where she attended the Calhoun School, an all-girl academy at which she discovered that she could get excused from gym class by writing the annual mother-daughter fashion show. Some years later, at Mount Holyoke, an elite Massachusetts women’s college, a friend persuaded Wasserstein, a history major, to take a playwriting course at nearby Smith College. Encouraged by her instructor, she devoted much of her junior year, which she spent at Amherst College, performing in campus musicals before returning to complete her B.A. degree at Mount Holyoke in 1971.

Upon graduating, Wasserstein moved back to New York City, where she studied playwriting with Israel Horovitz and Joseph Heller at City College (where she later earned an M.A.) and held a variety of odd jobs to pay her rent. In 1973, her play Any Woman Can’t was produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, prompting her to accept admission to the Yale School of Drama and to turn down the Columbia Business School, which had simultaneously offered her admission.

It was at Yale University, where she earned her M.F.A. degree in 1976, that Wasserstein’s first hit play, Uncommon Women and Others, was conceived as a one-act. Ultimately expanded, it was given a workshop production at the prestigious National Playwrights Conference at the...

(The entire section is 683 words.)