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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 for Drama.

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 applause]

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 ballet.

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 there.

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 interconnect. .

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 interesting.

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 play?

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 was.

WW: Yeah, exactly! But my brother really liked it, which was great In fact, he's coming back next Tuesday with a hundred bankers!

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 fan!

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 fine.

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 topical?

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 least...

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 unbelievable!

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 about.

TC: Okay, let's take some questions from the audience. Yes, sir...

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 play.

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 know—

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 vein.

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 made soon.

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 shoe-in plays.

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 back!

TC: Part of the writing of this play happened while you were pregnant and having just had a baby. Has that affected the way you write?

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 style.

AM #4: How long did it take for you to write the play?

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 Lobster Thermidor.

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 rehearsal.

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 play?

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 lives?

AM #5: So are you making a comment about people's values today?

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 done?"

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 laughter]

AM #6: When you're writing a play, do you have a certain actor in mind for the characters that you are writing?

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 actors?

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 field.

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 Hytner.

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 screenplays?

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 engrossing.

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 Daughter.

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 Heidi Chronicles.

AM #7: How often do you go see your plays in previews, and are you aware of the difference in audiences at various performances?

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 laughs]

TC: We know your names and we know where you live!

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 work?

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 coming.

AM #8: Do you have any more children's books on the horizon?

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 playwrights?

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 writers.

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 Heiress]?

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 helped?

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 worlds.

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 she is.

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 anymore.

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 family.

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 everyone!

[audience applause]


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