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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wendy And The Lost Boys by Julie Salamon, 2011, * * * *

When playwright Wendy Wasserstein died in 2006, a lot of theater lovers grieved.  Many of them were people like me -- a woman, baby-boomer, product of the same kind of New England woman's college that Wasserstein attended and around the same age.  It was easy to believe that Wasserstein's plays, especially her Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy The Heidi Chronicles were about me and people I knew.  It was a common perception.  The truth, however, was that Wasserstein had a tremendously troubled life and much of that trouble -- a brash and insensitive mother, high-achieving siblings, a trail of gay men she loved and lost -- made their way into her plays.  All of that comes together in Salamon's provocative book, and although it's not likely to surprise those who followed Wasserstein's glistening but dark social commentaries, it paints a portrait of a woman who never made peace with herself or her world.  At first glance Wendy Wasserstein seemed to have it all - she grew up well-off in Brooklyn and then on Manhattan's Upper East Side, went to private schools, Mount Holyoke College, and the Yale School of Drama.  Salamon draws a deft picture of a woman plagued by ambition and insecurities, struggling with weight, craving a man and children but sabotaging herself over and over with gay men who could not fill those needs. Salamon  presents a fair description of a close but scarily dysfunctional family. It's tempting to want to conflate Wendy Wasserstein with the vivid and charismatic women she created for the stage -- real life is always messier. The best biographies revivify their subjects while immersing you in their world.  Wendy And The Lost Boys puts Wasserstein's most complex character -- the driven, social, secretive, confessional, comic, endearing, restless, cookie-fueled, weight conscious woman that she was --center stage under the bright lights.  It is a riveting production.

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