LOLA WASSERSTEIN PRODUCED more than her share of extraordinary offspring. Her eldest, Sandra Meyer, was a top executive for American Express; her financier son Bruce became one of the richest men in the country. Wendy, the baby, was the first woman to win a (solo) Tony award for best play (The Heidi Chronicles, 1989). Born in 1950, Wendy graduated from Mount Holyoke in the early ’70s, a period memorialized in her play Uncommon Women and Others. After college, she returned to her parents’ home, fretting about what to do next. Lola had no patience for self-pity. “What have you got to be sad about?” she asked Wendy. “Did your husband die? Did your son get sick?” This was how Lola told her daughter that she had been married before — to the brother of Wendy’s father. Also contained in those sentences was the news that Wendy had a half-brother she had never met. Her siblings knew more: Abner Wasserstein, born in 1940, developed severe mental disabilities at around the age of 5 and was installed in an institution.
Wendy grew more secretive as she grew older. She told very few people that she was taking fertility drugs and even fewer people when she got pregnant at age 48 — a miracle that she said was the result of a last ditch, in vitro fertilization. Wasserstein’s daughter, Lucy Jane, was born three-months premature, and the mother’s health deteriorated. She raised the baby with the help of friends and assistants, always trying to keep her frailty under wraps. In November 2005 she was hospitalized with lymphoma. When she died three months later, many in her large circle did not even know she was ill. Bruce and his wife adopted Lucy Jane. Bruce died in 2009.
DEB, a punk rocker still at 57, sits in front of her computer screen at home in Manhattan in a slightly tattered leopard bathrobe. Across the country in Santa Monica, also at her home/office computer and in her pj’s, is JOY, 58. She wears a ratty, oversized Harvard t-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms as Sadie, the loving family mutt, snores beneath her desk. The last time these former college roommates saw one another was a year ago at a Radcliffe class reunion where Gloria Steinem was the guest speaker. Later the old friends reminisced about late-night dorm antics, which included incredible simulations of Tina Turner dance moves performed in flannel Lanz nightgowns. While DEB has recently endured the funeral of a family patriarch, JOY has just deposited her youngest child and only daughter to the bowels (bosom?) of Harvard. Currently, they share a mutual obsession with Julie Salamon’s biography of Wendy Wasserstein — and not only because the playwright immortalized the Lanz nightgown in several of her works.
This play unfolds, as so many contemporary dramas now do, over the medium of email.
DEB: This Wendy Wasserstein book could not be a more perfec...read more