Almost 20 years ago, when I was backstage at the old Playwrights Horizons theater looking to interview the author of the play "The Heidi Chronicles," a smiling, plain-looking woman backstage offered me her hand. "That's me," she giggled. "I'm Wendy Wasserstein." I thought she was an usher.
And up until she passed away on Monday, this most accomplished American playwright of the baby-boomer generation managed to retain that unaffected, unpretentious manner. It was her work that was affecting, influential, and complex.
"The Heidi Chronicles" proved to be a sensation and established her as a significant dramatist. In it, she spoke to, for, and about the struggles of newly liberated young women. The character of Heidi Holland, brought to life through Joan Allen's compelling performance, potrayed 22 years of a smart woman's journey to discover the true meaning of personal fulfillment.
"Wendy's insight and humor touched so many women grappling with their identities, and with the challenges in balancing their professional and personal lives," says Ms. Allen. "She had a completely original voice and understood the power of using wit to explore issues of feminism, sexism, and humanism. It was a privilege for me to play Heidi."
"You could just say 'Wendy,' and people knew who you meant," observes Jane Alexander, who starred on Broadway in Wasserstein's most popular play, "The Sisters Rosensweig." Portraying the eldest of three Jewish sisters, Ms. Alexander notes that as a person, the playwright was "very grounded, almost unflappable. And she was so accurate in her perceptions about people, always an acute observer of life."