When Wendy Wasserstein graduated from Massachusetts’ Mount Holyoke College in 1971, her parents expected big things from her. “They were hoping I would become a lawyer,” says Wasserstein, “or at least marry one.” To what greater heights could a nice Jewish girl born in Brooklyn aspire? Then, to her parents’ dismay, Wasserstein decided she wanted to become a playwright.
Mom and Dad needn’t have fretted. Isn’t It Romantic, Wasserstein’s current off-Broadway hit, was hailed as “breezy, fresh and unaffected” by the New York Times. The play’s heroine, Janie Blumberg, is a reluctant Jewish-American princess trying to make it as a free-lance writer in New York. She fends off overindulgent parents, wears baggy overalls to hide chubby thighs and uses a machine-gun wit to mask her feelings. Janie’s concerns are very much those of her creator. “You know,” says Wasserstein, “you can traumatize yourself with, ‘Oh, my God, it’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m not married. I’m 33 years old. I have no babies. What am I going to do?’ ”
Named after the winsome heroine of Peter Pan, Wasserstein became interested in the theater by reading liner notes on record jackets for musicals. She attended Manhattan’s then all-girl Calhoun School and majored in history at all-female Mount Holyoke. For her master’s thesis at the Yale School of Drama, Wasserstein wrote a bittersweet comedy about a reunion of five Holyoke alumnae several years after graduation. Uncommon Women and Others opened off-Broadway in 1977 and was later adapted for public television in a production starring Meryl Streep and Swoozie Kurtz. Aided by an $18,000 grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, Wasserstein is currently scripting a musical titled Miami. The project will be produced next year by Playwrights Horizons, a not-for-profit theater.
Wasserstein’s father, Morris, a textile manufacturer, and mother, Lola, are her biggest supporters. But they are still getting used to Wendy’s choice of career. “It’s hard enough for them to tell people that their daughter is a playwright,” jokes Wasserstein. “But it’s even harder for them to tell people I’m in not-for-profit theater.”