Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Local Theatre Company Pays Homage
Also see John's review of End Days
Not that August Wilson's cycle should be diminished, but Wasserstein has just as impressive a body of work that needed recognition. Meredith Lasher, president of the Women's Theatre Project, noticed the imbalance of Wasserstein presentations after her untimely passing. "In the wake of (Wilson's) death, there were many tributes around the country, but we haven't heard much about Wendy Wasserstein following her death. After focusing on world and regional premieres of newer material, we felt it was well worth stepping away from our tradition of premieres to honor a playwright who created such an important and incisive role for women".
So, to pay respect to Wasserstein as a playwright, the Women's Theatre Project is concluding its season with her first recognized play, Uncommon Women and Others.
Uncommon Women premiered at New York's Marymount Manhattan Theatre in 1977, starring Swoosie Kurtz, Glenn Close, Jill Eikenberry and Ellen Parker. Inspired by Wasserstein's early college days, it starts in 1978 at a restaurant where five former college buddies reunite six years after graduation. The play goes back in time to 1972 when they were seniors, sharing the dorm with three other classmates. "It's very reflective of what women where dealing with at that time," says artistic director Genie Croft, who helmed this production. "All of a sudden women could make choices about birth control, their careers. They were on the cusp of making decisions that affected them and the generations before them."
The play contains a collage of flashbacks that help define each woman as they are later in life. From liberation to alienation, Uncommon Women and Others offers a special look into how certain issues helped shaped these classmates, taking them through a journey of claiming their identity.
Wasserstein, a Brooklyn native, earned a BA in history from Mount Holyoke College in 1971, an MA in creative writing at CCNY and an MFA from Yale, where she wrote Uncommon Women and Others as her thesis. In 1989, she won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for her play The Heidi Chronicles. Other works that ran the gamut from feminism to pop culture included Isn't it Romantic, The Sisters Rosenzweig, An American Daughter and Old Money.
Wasserstein's final play, Third, premiered in 2005 while she was suffering from lymphoma. She died on January 30, 2006, and a day later, Broadway lights were dimmed in her honor.
As a memorial tribute to Wendy Wasserstein, the Women's Theatre Project is decorating their lobby with information about the scribe, her life and her plays. On Sundays at the conclusion of the show, WTP will hold talkbacks to discuss the influence Wasserstein had on women and theatre in general.
Lasher is no stranger to Uncommon Women; she performed it more than a decade ago, playing Carter, the enigmatic freshman trying to hold her own in a world of higher learning, while learning a little too much about her roommates. "I loved playing (Carter) because the character is always onstage, but not much is prescribed for her to do or say; it was one of the most creative times I've had on stage." In this production, the role of Carter is played by Katie Schwartz, who Lasher calls "delightful."
Also showing familiarity with this play is Marjorie O'Neill-Butler, who was in the same production as Lasher. O'Neill-Butler is reprising her role as Mrs. Plumm, den mother to the girls, who she says "is devoted to the school and its way of life. She always does what is expected of her, even if her heart is not in it." This time O'Neill-Butler says she is the right age for Mrs. Plumm and claims her life experience has helped her to relearn the part.
O'Neill-Butler admires Wasserstein for her dedication to the female state of mind: "Wendy wrote from a strong women's perspective, knowing and understanding the lives of women. Uncommon Women was selected because we wanted to remember her for that."
Genie Croft was happy, stepping up to the task to direct Uncommon Women. "I've had the opportunity to direct two other plays written by (Wasserstein), but I was fascinated by these complex characters. There's a lot to identify with from generation to generation about the struggle that these young ladies were going through: feminism, liberation ... all internal work. These five women talk about how they're uncommon, defying the stereotypes that laid ahead of them."
Croft also believed in the importance of honoring Wasserstein, to commemorate her and her contributions. "She was the voice of feminism in that period of time. She wrote very detailed, vivid character descriptions, demonstrated great satiric wit as well as sympathy to the roles she created."
Meredith Lasher says The Women's Theatre Project's mission is to honor women's voices, and was glad to pay tribute one of the greatest contemporary playwrights. "This why our company exists, to give a voice to women; it felt right to present a play by someone who was so revolutionary in the things she was discussing".
O'Neill-Butler also has been inspired to write again after participation in a recent WTP production: "I found the energy, commitment and support of women artists to be inspiring. The female voice is important and needs to be heard." Next season, her mettle will be put to the test when WTP will premiere her work, True Blue, a drama about female police officers slated for August 2008.
But for now, Uncommon Women and Others runs through November 18th at Sixth Star Studios, 505 NW 1st Avenue in Ft. Lauderdale. For more information, please call 954-462-2334 or visit www.womenstheatreproject.com.
Women's Theatre Project - Uncommon Women and Others
Cast: Dania Aguero, Elda Elisa Brouwer, Annelise Collette Valentina Izarra, Jaime Libbert, Sheri Martini, Marjorie O'Neill-Butler*, Erin Joy Schmidt, and Katie Schwartz
Directed by Genie Croft
Stage Manager: Callie Gloe
*-denotes Actors Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson