A Conversation with Wendy Wasserstein
November 29, 2000
Lincoln Center Theater's Platform series presents conversations with artists working at LCT before an audience of interested theatergoers. Admission is free and open to all. Platforms are held in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The following is a transcript, edited for clarity, of the November 29, 2000 Platform with Wendy Wasserstein:
THOMAS COTT: Good evening. I'm Thomas Cott, Director
of Special Projects at Lincoln Center Theater. Welcome to the third of our
November Platform series which is sponsored by The Rockefeller Brothers
Fund and The Rose M. Badgeley Residuary Charitable Trust. We are grateful
to both of them for their support.
And now onto tonight's guest. One of her earliest
plays—which was produced in 1973—was entitled Any Woman Can't. But,
of course, there are so many things that this woman can do and has done
over the last three decades, which have garnered her the love and
admiration of millions of people to date. Her writing for the theater has
brought her many honors, including the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize
Among her many plays are such popular works as
Uncommon Women and Others, Isn't It Romantic, The Heidi Chronicles
and here at Lincoln Center Theater, The Sisters Rosensweig and
An American Daughter. Her latest play, Old Money, is
currently in previews at the Newhouse and opens next Thursday. We're so
thrilled to have a play of hers back on our stage... and to have her here
tonight. Please welcome Wendy Wasserstein! [audience
The format of these evenings is rather informal. I'm
going to start us off with some probing questions [laughs] and then turn
the floor over to you all, so be thinking about questions you might have.
But first, let's talk about Old Money. How did the idea come to you
to write this play?
WENDY WASSERSTEIN: It came from a variety of sources.
Old Money is about New York City. It's about New York now and New
York in 1917. I've lived all my life in New York. I lived in Brooklyn
until I was twelve, and then my folks moved to 150 East 77th Street, where
they still live. So I've always had a sense of being from New York. Even
when I've lived in other places, I've defined myself as a New Yorker. I
've always had an interest in New York families and the history of New
York families, and also the history of New York architecture. I was
remembering, with this play, when I was in high school; they tore down the
Brokaw Mansion on 79th Street and 5th Avenue and put up a tall apartment
house. And I remember picketing to stop them. We weren't successful, but
we did then picket to stop the Stuyvesent House across the street. And
indeed, it wasn't. Because of us…well no, I don't know! [laughter]
TC: We'll give you the credit.
WW: Yes, exactly. But I have always had that interest
and I've always been very taken with Edith Wharton and her novels, which
are really great. In fact, one of the few autographed letters I have is an
old Edith Wharton letter in which she writes to the Penn Society, saying
that she would be unable to speak at their Women's Luncheon. And she
signed it, "Believe me." [audience laughter] Oh, I'm sure you could have
gotten there, Edith!
TC: As it happens, you actually did speak at our
Women's Luncheon today. One of the things you said in your remarks was
that, in writing the play, you were influenced by the
WW: I've always loved the ballet. My sister used to
take me there as a child, and also I studied ballet as a child. Then my
sister passed away three years ago. That has a lot of influence on this
play, too, which you'll see is different in tone from The Sisters
Rosensweig. But it's interesting that this play in a house similar to
the one in The Sisters Rosensweig, and there are tones of that
play. It's a melancholy but happy thing for me, in a way, of being back
One of the things that I did after my sister passed
away was I began obsessively going to the City Ballet, I think to find
some calm and peace, and to remind me of her. Also because it's just
beautiful. Anyway, as I became more and more absorbed in the ballet, one
night, I was watching Vienna Waltzes—in fact, I went with Nicholas
Hytner and Bob Crowley, who both work at this theater as well—I think it
was Nick who said to me, "the thing about Ballanchine dances is you never
notice the exits. They sort of leap up and off they go."
The structure of this play is very much, I hope, like
a ballet. There are pas de deuxs and then you bring on eight people, and
then they break into four people. So it doesn't have a conventional
structure or storyline. Hopefully, it all adds up. And there is dancing in
this play, a pattern of lives from the past and the present and how they
TC: Most of your best-known plays have women at the
center of them. But this play—although it has very important female
characters—focuses more on the men, I would say. Is that a conscious
change of direction for you?
WW: It's interesting. I think in some ways it was a
conscious choice with this play. I think that I was feeling things so
deeply and so personally about my sister that I thought it would be easier
to write about men. Because, I thought, I can't really write about a woman
at the moment. Also, when you're writing about the turn of the century...
well, the women characters were very interesting. You'll see in this play
that there's a character named Sally Webster who's a famous American
diarist, who I thought of like Mable Dodge. I don't know if many of you
are interested in women diarists from the turn of the century, but there
were these wonderful women who seem to have had affairs with D.H. Lawrence
and Mahler! [audience laughter]
And I read them and think, [she laughs] "What kind of
life did you have?! I'm home writing!" [audience laughter] Those
larger-than-life women, like Elsie DeWolf, the woman who decorated the
Colony Club—she's also an inspiration for Miss DeRoot in this play—these
larger-than-life women of that period, I've always found them extremely
But when you're writing about money and
turn-of-the-century money, you're writing about men. You're writing about
Carnegie, Frick, Rockefeller. If you wrote about the present, it would be
somewhat different. I also found it interesting in researching this play
that when you dropped names at the turn of the last century, you would
drop the names of Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller…captains of industry.
Whereas when you drop names from the turn of this
century, it's more celebrities, actors, journalists. It's an interesting
thing. If I said the name Lou Gerstner to this audience, I don't know how
many would know he's the chairman of IBM. He wouldn't have the same name
recognition. And that's sort of interesting, too.
TC: You talk about the influence of your sister on the
writing of this play. You often have had influences from your own life,
from your family and friends…were there particular people in your life
that you modeled your characters on?
WW: Yeah, I think there were. For instance, my brother
is a banker, so...
TC: Will he be happy to see himself in this
WW: My brother really liked this play! [audience
laughter] He came to this play and I was sitting in the back. It was the
oddest night. There was my brother Bruce and Kevin Spacey and Helen
Hunt... and some New York Yankees were there! I thought, "I am going to
have a heart attack!" [audience laughter] "I don't think I'm going to make
it through the night!" The Yankees were the ones that really interested
me, though. I just thought, "Are they big fans of The Heidi
Chronicles?" [laughs] I was thrilled. I love the Yankees.
TC: They wanted to be where the action
WW: Yeah, exactly! But my brother really liked it,
which was great In fact, he's coming back next Tuesday with a hundred
I think a lot of the people are sort of amalgamations.
I'm very close to my nephews and nieces. I have two young nephews, one who
I think will be a writer, who's extremely bright, who I think of as my
mini-dramaturg for this play. You'll see in the play, there's an aunt and
her nephew. The nephew wants to be a writer, and they're extremely close.
So there's that as well.
TC: Speaking of younger characters, you have been
mentoring a group of high school students, taking them to see Broadway and
off-Broadway plays and musicals for a number of years now. And you're
going to take them to this play. What do you think their reaction will be,
especially to the teenage characters in the play?
WW: I'll be fascinated to take them. I started this
program in the New York City public school system... it's now called Open
Doors. We started first with just the DeWitt Clinton High School in the
Bronx. I said, "Give me eight bright high school students who have never
seen a play. I don't want anyone who's looking for a theater agent, or
just wants Jennifer Aniston's phone number. Give me math and science
people. And let's see if the theater is relevant to them at all." I have
to say, that it's more than relevant to them. It's been one of the most
moving experiences I've ever had.
In fact, I got together with the first group of kids I
took to the theater and this one girl, Kinesha Johnson, I remember when we
first started she was very suspicious of me. She thought I was just some
woman who was experimenting with minority kids and wanted to see... Then
we took her to Beth Henley's play, Impossible Marriage, which was a
very difficult, lyrical play, and she loved it. She became a Beth Henley
And they all loved Parade here. Parade
at this theater was their favorite play. But Kinesha, I saw her—she
went to the University of Rochester—and she told me she got up there and
she thought, "What am I going to say to these people? I have nothing to
say to them." Then she said, "And then I talked to myself and I thought, I
know! I can talk to them about the theater!" And it opened the world. In
fact, we just managed to get her a fellowship. She's going to go to London
to see plays with the University of Rochester.
TC: Sign me up for that!
WW: Yeah! I thought it was amazing. I just took these
kids to see Jitney three weeks ago. And they loved Jitney. They
pretty much like most things we've seen. I don't know what they'll make of
this or what they'll make of the young kids in them. If they'll think "the
boy is naïve or the girl is spoiled." That's possible. With my first group
of kids, one of the plays they didn't react to a whole lot was An
American Daughter. [she laughs] But that's okay. That's
TC: It's interesting, talking about the young woman
who viewed theater as a forum to promote discussion. I think that your
plays are notable because they are all politically aware and socially
aware. Is that something that is important to you as a playwright... to be
WW: It's really important to me. When I was in high
school, we had a textbook. I still have it. It's called How We Live.
I thought, I would very much like my plays to add up to how we live or
how we lived in a certain time. I also think you can say things in plays,
particularly in comedies, that are, if not subversive, at
One of the reasons why I wrote this play was that
people literally talk about money all the time. I mean, I find it
shocking. Young people will tell you what the grosses were over the
weekend for movies. And what's amazing—I never even knew this—but on CNN
at 12 o'clock, you can get a list, everyday, of the ten richest people in
America and what they're worth! [audience laughter] I thought, this is
I actually went to a dinner party in New York where
people were all talking about how much somebody was worth. I thought, one
thing about plays, as opposed to movies, because you're not working for a
corporation or whatever, is you can put something on the table and say, at
least let's discuss this. This is what's going on here.
We are really beginning to talk about a person's
worth. How much money? Their worth, instead of pounds of flesh, it has to
do with what their assets are. One character in this play says "We live in
an asset-based meritocracy." I think that's partially true and partially
something that, in "good" times, has to be talked
TC: Okay, let's take some questions from the audience.
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: I was fortunate enough to see the
opera you did called Central Park. I'm curious what you see as the
difference between writing a libretto for an opera and writing a straight
WW: With Central Park, the composer was Deborah
Drattell, who is the composer-in-residence at New York City Opera. I
always very much felt that my work was to serve Deborah. I think an opera
is really about the music and the singing of the opera. Also, I don't know
that much about opera, so to make it about me would have been just
ridiculous. Also, Deborah would say to me, "I think we'll use a mezzo
here" and I'd think, "Fine…what's a mezzo?" [audience laughter]
I was so fascinated by it, the whole difference in
opera and theater, because—in a sense—the power is in the hands of the
conductor and not the director. That whole, what do they call it? The
"sitzprobe", where they play the score through for the first time? That's
more important than we're you're hearing the words for the first time. So
you see yourself in a different position, writing an opera.
But I loved doing it. I loved sitting through it. I'm
writing a libretto of The Merry Widow for San Francisco Opera. And
Deborah and I are going to work on an original opera together, one that
we've come up with an idea for. Only because I know these are all
get-rich-quick schemes. That's really why I'm doing them. [audience
laughter] Other people write movies. I just say, you
TC: Write for the opera!
WW: Yeah! [she laughs]
TC: Music has played a really important part in your
life. You did write a musical called Miami, but it's a genre that
you haven't done a lot of.
WW: I just wrote a new book for a stage version of
An American in Paris. That was a wonderful job because I got to
listen to Gershwin all summer. One of my favorite things is to say I'm
working and I'm actually just listening to music! [she laughs] I had a
good time doing it. I don't know when exactly it's going to be done, or
who's directing or what. But we had a good time.
AM #2: I had a question about Central Park,
too. I want to know how much you were aware of how much the opera
embodied many of the, shall we say, nuances of theater and opera history.
For instance, it opens with people entering and you're not aware that the
piece has begun. Which is a device used by Shakespeare and others going
way, way back.
WW: That wasn't really because of me. It was Mark
Lamos, the opera's director, who does a great many operas. He just did
The Great Gatsby at the Metropolitan Opera. That was really his
idea to begin that way. It was Terrence McNally and A.R. Gurney and my
idea to do Central Park. That we did agree upon together. But it
was really Mark's idea—who is a wonderful opera director—how to link it
all. So, in a way, you're quite right, because he's somebody who knows a
great deal about both opera and theater. So it was a linkage of both in
that he was dealing with theater writers in an operatic
AM #3: Your play is being done at a small space and a
lot of people were shut out of tickets. Are there plans for it to be done
in the larger theater?
TC: Well, we're still in previews. A decision will be
WW: I wanted to do the play in the Newhouse because I
had done The Sisters Rosensweig there, and I thought it was a way
to concentrate on the play... just to make the play work and not think
about the commercial ramifications. If we can make it good then hopefully
it will have a longer life. But I thought the thing to do here was
concentrate on the play. It's a difficult play. It's not one of those
TC: Has the play changed a lot?
WW: Yes, a lot. For those of you who have seen it,
it's eight characters in the present and eight characters in the past, so
that's sixteen people! [she laughs] When you're doing that—and they're all
sort of vaguely interesting—it can go off in many ways. I'm always very
happy to go on any possible tangent. [audience laughter]
Like there used to be all of this explanation about
Miss DeRoot and how she took up with Bitsy Vanderbilt and went off
somewhere and on and on. Then I thought, this is not important to the main
plot of the play. I think, although it is like a dance with all the coming
back and forth, you have to eventually say, "Where is this narrowing down
to? Who do we eventually want to think about?"
Two weeks ago, we cut out one of the funniest scenes
in this play; the return of—for those who've seen it—Sid, who comes back
one last time to hug his daughter and makes—my favorite thing—jokes about
Brown University. [audience laughter] But we cut it, because it was a
diversion from where the play was ultimately leading.
It's the old thing—we talk about this in An
American Daughter—the old Mayflower Donut slogan: "Keep your eye on
the donut, not on the hole." And I think that's what you try to do with
rewriting a play. Also, I have to say, when you're working with a good
director, a lot of the credit goes to him or her. In this case I worked
with Mark Brokaw. My previous three plays were directed by Daniel
Sullivan, but Dan was busy this fall, and I thought this was a play
that—because it is so topical—should be done this fall. So the play was
directed by Mark, who directed How I Learned to Drive and This
is Our Youth. He has been wonderful to work with, directorially and
editorially. He really helped me. Because, I would go on tangents all over
the place. When you're writing about—never mind sixteen characters—two
time zones, believe me, you can do a lot of things! You can do a whole
segment on the Spanish American War and never come
TC: Part of the writing of this play happened while
you were pregnant and having just had a baby. Has that affected the way
WW: Yeah. I wrote this play, mostly, while I was
pregnant and in Rome, at the American Academy in Rome…I was barefoot and
pregnant in Rome! [audience laughter] It was a very happy time on my life.
I looked out over this lovely garden, and I became obsessed with this play
because I thought I wouldn't be able to write right after I had the baby.
So I really put myself under pressure to finish the play.
And you can tell it was written in Rome. There are
references. In fact, one of the key scenes in the play is identifying the
Botticelli painting. That happened because, when I was writing in the
library in Rome, I was seated right next to a book about Botticelli. I did
a lot of research. There were architectural fellows at the American
Academy in Rome, and I would talk to them about McKim, Mead & White,
who were the great architects in New York at the turn of the century.
Charles McKim was apparently a man who saw himself as a genius of
neo-classical structure, like the great Italian Renaissance architects. So
I began making the architect in my play, Schuyler Lynch, someone who
wasn't Charles McKim. Someone with a different kind of
AM #4: How long did it take for you to write the
WW: I was just thinking, the other thing is that I was
pregnant and I didn't have any drinks or anything and I was eating very
healthily, so I would have all of my food fantasies in this play. They eat
a lot! [laughs]
TC: They ate for you!
WW: They ate for me. They're forever going off to have
TC: And drink scotch.
WW: And drink scotch! Exactly! [laughs] How long did
it take me? You know, I did four drafts of this play before we went into
rehearsal with it. I began writing it two years ago September, that I
remember. Then I went to Rome and then I finished it. We had the first
reading of this play in July of 1999. We had a workshop here in April that
Mark directed. Then another reading in August and another reading in
September. So it was a pretty long process. And I did it all because I
thought, "I'll just get this perfect so I don't have to re-write it during
rehearsal." And that's never true. I've re-written it a great deal during
AM #5: I've seen the play and noticed that many themes
run through it. But what do you think is the main theme of the
WW: I think the main theme is what I said to you:
"What is a man worth or what is a woman worth?" I think also, it has to do
with what you pass on and what's of value? That's why the last scene of
the play goes into the future. What is ultimately valuable about our
AM #5: So are you making a comment about people's
WW: I don't think you can really make a comment. You
can explore. You can show. One of my favorite scenes from this play is
when the robber baron from the turn of the century meets the investment
banker from now, and they have a conversation about their values. The
robber baron says, "I was building a nation with steel and railroad tracks
and—I hate to say it—Standard Oil."
Which was true of those men. Except that the
investment baker says "Yes, and you did it on the back of the working man.
Because those steelworkers were living in shanty towns, and you were
living in this house." Then the robber baron says, "Yes, but my son built
hospitals and libraries in 40 cities to make up for that…what have you
So you can't say, "Gee, what a terrible, terrible man
you are, we don't want those hospitals and libraries." But still, you
could say—if you go and read about Carnegie or Frick—they did bust unions,
they did do it on the back of the working man.
I think things are…complicated, is what I think. I
don't think you can write a play about money and say, money is bad or
money is good. It's the throughline of our lives in many ways. Except I
would say the throughline of our lives is your heart and your character.
That's my personal opinion. But I'm a humanist. But I hope also people
have rich, full lives and come to the theater. [audience
AM #6: When you're writing a play, do you have a
certain actor in mind for the characters that you are
WW: The great thing about writing plays is you can
write them for anyone. That doesn't mean they're going to do it. I can sit
home and write a play for Meryl Streep—I can write all my plays for Meryl
Streep—that doesn't mean she'll be there. What you do do, like with this
play, is when you find the right person… When we did this workshop in
April and John Cullum did it, I thought, Vivian Pfeiffer was John Cullum.
So John's voice came in my head and I tried to think of him. Charlie
Hofheimer, who plays young Ovid, did too—
The most specific example of this was with The
Sisters Rosensweig and Madeline Kahn, because once I had heard her
voice in that play, she became Dr. Gorgeous. And I've seen that part done
by many other people, many talented people. But forever to me, Madeline
will be Dr. Gorgeous. They're one and the same.
AM #6: How much say do you have in choosing the
WW: The good thing about being a playwright is that no
words of yours can be changed without the playwright's permission and you
have casting approval.
TC: Which is quite unusual in the entertainment
WW: Yes. Certainly it's not true in the movies at all.
I mean, they wouldn't even know who you were.
TC: You've worked a little bit in the movies.
Recently, most notably, on The Object of My Affection with Nick
WW: That was a very nice experience. It was a movie
with Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd that Nick Hytner directed. But Nick
and I are very good friends and Nick comes from the theater, so we had a
good working relationship. But often with movies, writers—although it can
be different in independent film—a writer is just brought in to "punch
something up" or fix something, that sort of thing.
TC: Is that something you would like to do more? Write
WW: I have great respect for people who write
screenplays, and millions of people go see movies. But I really think of
myself as a playwright. I love writing plays. I love rehearsing plays…I
mean, you get nervous and crazy, but I do. [she laughs] My passion is not
screenwriting. But I certainly do it, and certainly one can make a living
as a screenwriter and certainly you have possibilities on the screen that
you don't in plays.
But there's something about plays and the respect for
the author. My actors will say, "Wendy, do you mind if I say a 'but' here
or an 'and' here..." and that's an amazing experience. To be able to craft
something. I find it really pleasurable, I still do. And
TC: You've had a number of projects done for
television, most recently An American Daughter for TNT. What was
that experience like?
WW: Actually, American Daughter was done for
Lifetime. My plays have been done for television more than for movies,
starting with Uncommon Women which was done for PBS' "Great
Performances" series years ago, with Swoosie Kurtz and Meryl Streep. That
was a wonderful production. And we did The Heidi Chronicles for TNT
with Jamie Lee Curtis and Tommy Hulce. And recently, An American
I've always liked doing plays for television because
it's an up-close medium. It's about character, like the theater, so it
seems similar to me. And it's about dialogue as well. Also, the directors
I've worked with in television have come from the theater, like Sheldon
Larry who did An American Daughter and Paul Bogart who did The
AM #7: How often do you go see your plays in previews,
and are you aware of the difference in audiences at various
WW: This play I've seen every night since it started
previews. It started previews November 9th, so I've seen this play a lot.
[laughs] I haven't gone to all the matinees. But I watched today and I
will see it again tonight. Because you change things. And yes, different
audiences are different. They truly are different. Tuesday night, last
night, we had a slowish audience who was eating a lot of candy—[audience
TC: We know your names and we know where you
WW: I wanted to turn to them and say, "Look, I've had
Skittles. They're not that good!" [audience laughter] "If it was
M&M's, I would get it. But this is truly not that good." But this
afternoon, we had a wonderful audience. They were here from the Patrons'
luncheon. They were just terrific. I don't know why audiences tend to have
a character of their own. Some are good and some are bad. Some get the
jokes and some don't. And some listen. Some you think, "Oh it's not
working, it's so quiet in here, oh my god!" And they are audiences who are
just listening very attentively.
TC: Do you feel a burden, because you won a Pulitzer
or Tony? Do you think people have a different attitude now about your
WW: What you worry about is when you're a comedic
author and you're not writing a comedy. Or you get afraid, "Oh my god,
it's not funny enough." That gets scary. I think there's a certain
expectation. But you also just feel grateful that people are
AM #8: Do you have any more children's books on the
WW: I wrote Pamela's First Musical for my
niece, Pamela—who's now starting Harvard Law School! [laughs] And I've
written a musicalized version of that, with Cy Coleman and David Zippel.
We actually wrote that for television, but it didn't get made. But we're
going to try to do it as a theater piece. I hope to write more children's
books. I would like to, especially since I have a child. I would like to
do that very much.
AM #9: Would you encourage your daughter to follow
your footsteps into the theater?
WW: My daughter is going to be a gerontologist.
[audience laughter] She's told me that.
AM #10: Do you have any favorites among current
WW: Yes, I have a lot of favorites. I've always loved
Christopher Durang. We went to school together and I think he's brilliant.
I love John Guare and his new play that Lincoln Center Theater is doing in
the spring is wonderful. Also there's Jon Robin Baitz, Marsha Norman and
Tina Howe…I think August Wilson is a great playwright... Richard Greenberg
is a favorite of mine. I think he's wonderful on character. And then, you
know, American standards…Arthur Miller, Edward Albee....
And then there are younger playwrights who are very
interesting. There's a young woman named Jenny Lyn Bader, who I think is
very talented. I taught Christopher's Juilliard class the other day, and
there are wonderful writers in there. The young man who wrote Proof
went to Juilliard. I think there are a lot of very good American
TC: You mentioned a number of women in that list, and
while women have certainly made great strides in the theater, it's still
fair to say that men are still at the forefront. What advice do you have
for young women today in the theater business?
WW: I think it's changing slightly. I certainly come
across more women directors and more women artistic directors and
producers. It's interesting, because in television and film, the advances
have been made more than the theater. It's more recent in the theater. For
instance, I was the first woman to win a Tony Award for a play. That's
sort of shocking. Well, there was one other woman—
TC: Ruth Goetz [who co-wrote The
WW: No, it wasn't Ruth. It was Frances Goodrich, who
co-wrote The Diary of Anne Frank, with her husband Albert Hackett.
But I was the first woman on her own to win. And that's changed. Yasmina
Reza, who wrote Art, won a Tony. So it's beginning to change. I
think for women writers the thing to do is to keep writing. I know that
with Guggenheim and NEA grants, they tend to go 50% to women now.
TC: Has the regional theater movement
WW: I think the regional theater movement helps
because there's more places to do plays, basically, and there are
beginning to be more female artistic directors as well. That's not
necessarily to say, a woman artistic director will do women's plays.
Someone like Carole Rothman does at Second Stage. I'm someone who's done
all my plays at not-for-profit theaters—at Lincoln Center Theater and
Playwrights Horizons before that. But I think the landscape is getting
better in this field. I do.
AM #11: In Old Money, it seems to me you were
trying to show a lot of common ground between the two time periods and I
wanted to know if that was intentional?
WW: Yes, I think that there is common ground between
generations. You know, "Le plus ça change..." One of the things about
Old Money is, the world of it is divided into the entrepreneurs and
the artists, and the young nephew in it is struggling between those two
Jim McMullan, who did the poster for the play, was
very smart about this play. He told me things I didn't even know about it.
He pointed out that all the artists in the play go through the house's
secret passageway, so that Saulina, the sculptor, and Ovid, her nephew,
and Vivian Pfeiffer all know about the secret passageway.
The differences between generations often have to do
with language, and then it has to do with the times we're living in; money
and social and who's the president and all of that. Or little Caroline in
this play, when she says, "Boy this house is 'off the hook'", and "That's
a 'whack' thing to do" and she she's got pierces in her stomach and
everything else. But she ends up as the president of Sony-Fox-Nercessian
Pictures! [laughs] That's her, too! I don't care what she says. That's who
AM #11: Were you influenced at all by Gurney's play
The Dining Room?
WW: Not really. I mean, I like Pete Gurney's plays a
lot. He and I used to say that we should write a play together called "The
Gentleman and The Jewess." [audience laughter] I was influenced more by
Tom Stoppard's play, Arcadia, which goes back and forth in time.
Which is a brilliant play.
TC: Your play primarily focuses on the two time
periods of 1917 and the present-day, but it also goes forward into the
future. I'm curious if you have thought a lot about what the world will be
like in 100 years?
WW: I've thought about that and, in some ways, this
play is very hopeful about the future, because there they are and there's
the house and the grandson is going off to Stanford. Anne Cattaneo, the
dramaturg here asked me, "Do you think Stanford will be around in 60
years?". And I thought, yeah I do. Although they won't use paper money
I look at George Bush and I think I don't know what's
going to be going on here, but I'm hopefully hopeful! [audience laughter]
I don't know. A friend read this play—Dan Sullivan—and in the last scene
in the museum, when the kid says, "Dad, we can't go in there, what if
someone stops us?" Dan said to me, "Do you think there is a totalitarian
regime? Are they going to stop them?" And I thought, well no. I really
haven't thought that way. Not in New York City, I don't think so.
One could write a very scary, futuristic…I don't know,
there are real crazies in the world. Maybe it has to do with my having a
daughter that I think, "Things go on." People will have their
grandchildren and they will have their lives. They'll use paper money or
they won't use paper money, but there will still be life as a
TC: For myself, I'm sure of one thing that will be
around in 100 years, and that's the plays of Wendy Wasserstein! We have to
stop now, but we all thank you, Wendy, for being here tonight. Good night