Uncommon Playwrights

Three Renowned American Dramatists Reflect on Wendy Wasserstein's Legacy

Panel Event

When Wasserstein broke onto the New York theatre scene in 1977 with Uncommon Women and Others, a play that chronicled the lives of a group of determined Mount Holyoke graduates, American feminism was in high gear. Women had greater freedom to choose how they would live their lives, and Wasserstein’s colorful and complicated characters confronted this new range of possibilities with both excitement and trepidation. Borne from a dream Wasserstein had in her student days—of seeing “an all-female curtain call in the basement of the Yale School of Drama”—Uncommon Women marked the beginning of a superlative career. The accomplished heroines of Isn’t It Romantic (1983), The Heidi Chronicles (1988), The Sisters Rosenzweig (1991), An American Daughter (1997), and Third (2005) faced a changing culture where personal and political commitments were often in conflict, and “having it all” was far from given.

Wasserstein encountered many of these same conflicts in her own life as a single woman in New York, where being female and a playwright was still a tenuous prospect. Despite a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for The Heidi Chronicles, a play that dared to place the experiences of contemporary women center stage, the difficulties of succeeding in the man’s world of American theatre still loomed large for Wasserstein. What have we learned about the role of women in the theatre since Wasserstein took to the stage? How have her difficult, honest, and funny female characters changed the landscape of American drama? What is her legacy as a feminist playwright? These questions and more will be the subject of a panel conversation with renowned American dramatists Christopher Durang, Marsha Norman, and Suzan-Lori Parks '85.

Event Details

Thursday, February 16, 2012
7:00 pm
Gamble Auditorium, Art Building
Mount Holyoke College
Free and Open to the Public

Student Leadership Seminar

Dramatic Leadership
4:15 pm
Willits-Hallowell Conference Center
Preregistration required

Panelist Biographies

Christopher Durang, who met Wasserstein when they were graduate students and who collaborated with her on a number of projects, will offer an intimate and authoritative perspective on Wasserstein and her world, and share some of his own experiences in the theatre. Celebrated for his witty and absurd dramas (such as the OBIE award-winning Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You and The Marriage of Bette and Boo), Durang has crafted a unique place for himself on the American stage, with political satires such as Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, which premiered at the Public Theater in 2009. View full bio of Christopher Durang...

Marsha Norman began writing during the same era as Wasserstein, and while both saw great success in their careers, the frustrations of writing for a male-dominated field have continued. Norman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1983 play ‘night, Mother and a Tony Award for The Secret Garden in 1992, has elaborated on the stalled opportunities for women in “Not There Yet,” a 2009 article for American Theatre magazine: “In the late ‘70s, when I came of age as a playwright—along with Beth Henley, Wendy Wasserstein, Tina Howe, Paula Vogel and Ntozake Shange—we thought the revolution would be over by now. We thought we were changing things, that regional theatres and New York institutional theatres would soon be presenting seasons filled with plays by women. But that did not happen.” Television and film, on the other hand, have offered Norman many opportunities, as they did for Wasserstein. View full bio of Marsha Norman...

Suzan-Lori Parks '85, herself a Pulitzer prize-winner in 2002 for Topdog/Underdog, will offer the perspective of a younger generation of playwrights who have risen to prominence in a very different political climate. As a student at Mount Holyoke, Parks was inspired by Wasserstein’s success, and, after graduating, went on to create her own theatrical idiom in works such as The America Play and Venus. Fresh off the Broadway premiere of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (for which she wrote the revised book), Parks will offer current students an invaluable perspective on the challenges and rewards of a life in the theatre. View full bio of Suzan-Lori Parks...