NEW YORK — Family, friends and the theater community came together Monday for an emotional, yet often joyous memorial celebrating playwright Wendy Wasserstein, “an extraordinary woman, who led an extraordinary, exemplary life.”
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Those words were spoken by Andre Bishop, Wasserstein’s close friend and mentor, who opened the nearly two-hour tribute at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater with a moving remembrance of the last days of a playwright whose work spoke to a generation of women.
“I feel as if my heart and mind stopped on Jan. 30 in room 1917 of Memorial Hospital,” said Bishop, recalling the day Wasserstein died of complications from lymphoma at age 55.
Bishop, who helped produce almost all of Wasserstein’s plays over a more than 30-year period, spoke somberly of one of their last conversations, a talk in which the desperately ill Wasserstein asked why this had happened to her.
Bishop found he couldn’t speak — but he did at the Beaumont, in words that left many audience members in tears.
“Wendy, you are the finest person I know. You are the greatest friend I’ve ever had — and that I will ever have,” he started.
“You have grown over the years from an insecure mass of giggles and curls and unfocused talent to a strong, powerful, visionary woman. Your plays are distinctive, not really because they are funny or angry or well-observed — which they are — but because they approach the world with a tenderness and a longing for a finer life that is the unflinching point of view of the woman who wrote them.
“You have seen the world and you have made friends, it seems, with virtually everyone in it. You have a devoted family and a beautiful, beautiful daughter. You have led a rich, full life. Please Wendy, know that and take comfort.”
Scenes from several of Wasserstein’s plays, including “Uncommon Women and Others” (Wasserstein’s first success), “Isn’t It Romantic,” “An American Daughter” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Heidi Chronicles,” were performed, some with their original casts. Among the actors appearing were Meryl Streep, Swoosie Kurtz, Jill Eikenberry, Linda Lavin, Robert Klein, Joan Allen and Boyd Gaines.
Other speakers ranged from Mary Jane Patrone, a friend from her college days at Mount Holyoke, to playwright Christopher Durang to Daniel Sullivan, who directed four of Wasserstein’s plays, including “The Heidi Chronicles” and “The Sisters Rosensweig” to her niece, Pamela Wasserstein.
Playwrights James Lapine, Terrence McNally and Peter Parnell took turns reading an excerpt from an essay about the difficult birth of Wasserstein’s daughter, Lucy Jane, published in her book “Shiksa Goddess.”
“Wendy was a smart, kind, warm, funny, talented, generous, successful woman — that we all know,” Bishop said. “But perhaps we didn’t know was how deeply, profoundly, universally loved she was. Not by just the 1,000 who are here in the Beaumont today ... but by those who did not know her, who had never even met her, but who had heard her speak or seen her plays or read her books and felt as we do, that she was their friend.”
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