On Stage: Wendy Wasserstein

May 22, 2017

Wendy Wasserstein is probably best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles. The show opened on Broadway in 1989 after a run on Off Broadway was received with a bounty of critical applause, and went on to receive a New York Drama Critics Circle award and a Tony for Best Play.

Wasserstein grew up in New York, and when she attended Broadway shows as a young woman, she found herself wondering about the absence of women on stage. She proceeded to write plays that were all about women, particularly smart young women who struggled with the conflict between the female identity that society presented, with its emphasis on romance, and the will to independence. Her characters were intelligent, successful, and unwilling to settle for marriage just to satisfy convention—and the stories her characters told were funny, vulnerable, and thoughtful. She told The Paris Review in 1977, “My work is often thought of as lightweight commercial comedy and I have always thought, No, you don't understand: this is, in fact, a political act.”

André Bishop, the artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater, said  “In Wendy's plays, women saw themselves portrayed in a way they hadn't been onstage before—wittily, intelligently, and seriously at the same time. We take that for granted now, but it was not the case years ago. She was a real pioneer.”

Wendy Wasserstein died in 2006 at the age of 55 of complications from lymphoma. The lights on Broadway were dimmed in her honor.

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