The late playwright Wendy Wasserstein, whose popular comedies gave voice to the inner lives of a generation of women, will be honored with a symposium Feb. 23-25 at Cornell.
Playwrights Christopher Durang and Jenny Lynn Bader, actress Alma Cuervo, actors and visiting scholars will participate in the symposium, "Wendy Wasserstein: An Uncommon Woman," at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public and coincides with a production of Wasserstein's 1977 play, "Uncommon Women and Others."
Wasserstein was appointed the President's Council of Cornell Women Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large in 2005. She died at age 55 of lymphoma Jan. 30, 2006.
"This is poignant because she was scheduled to come and teach here," said symposium organizer and theater professor Beth Milles, the original assistant director on Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning 1988 play, "The Heidi Chronicles."
"She was incredible. She was dedicated to mentorship beyond being a creative artist, and [she was] genuine," Milles said. "She was very interested in helping young artists in developing their craft." The symposium begins Feb. 23 at 4:30 p.m. at the Schwartz Center with a staged reading of Wasserstein's final play, "Third," about a female university professor who suspects a student of plagiarism. The reading will feature Cuervo (an original cast member of "Uncommon Women and Others" on Broadway) and student and Equity actors.
On Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. in the Schwartz Center, an academic panel, "Reflecting on Wendy Wasserstein," will include Jan Balakian of Kean University, who is writing a study of Wasserstein's plays; and Michael Cadden, director of the theater and dance program at Princeton University and a noted political theater scholar.
Durang was Wasserstein's friend and classmate at the Yale School of Drama. He will speak Feb. 24 at 11:45 a.m. about her influences on his work. The two playwrights collaborated on the parodic short play "Medea"; his other work includes "Beyond Therapy," "Sex and Longing," "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" and the current off-Broadway musical "Adrift in Macao."
Durang and Cuervo will participate in an audience question-and-answer session following the 2 p.m. Feb. 24 performance of "Uncommon Women" at the Schwartz Center. Tickets are $8 and $10; call (607) 254-ARTS. The play's run concludes Feb. 22-24.
Bader, Wasserstein's former assistant, will lead a playwriting workshop Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. Bader is a Lark Playwriting Fellow whose plays appear in "Under Thirty: Plays for a New Generation" and "Leading Women: Plays for Actresses." To reserve a place in the workshop, contact Milles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wasserstein also wrote the plays "The Sisters Rosensweig," "Isn't It Romantic," "Old Money" and "The American Daughter"; the essay collections "Shiksa Goddess: Or, How I Spent My Forties" and "Bachelor Girls"; the novel "Elements of Style," published in 2006; and the screenplay for the 1998 film "The Object of My Affection," among several other works.
"Wendy's work is frighteningly insightful, daringly witty and utterly human. This is a powerful combination," Milles said. "She was able to make a social statement, a cultural statement and a political statement, and make it personal at the same time."
The symposium is sponsored by the Departments of English and Theatre, Film and Dance; Cornell Council for the Arts; University Lecture Series; Burton Spiller New Play and Playwrights Program; A.D. White Professors-at-Large; Rose Goldsen Lecture Series; Society for the Humanities; Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Studies; and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.