Guarding the chips
I actually gasped out loud at my desk when I read the news that Wendy Wasserstein died today. And then I emailed my mom at work to let her know. Her response: "I find that incredibly sad."
When I was in 9th grade, my mother took me to see The Heidi Chronicles at the Kennedy Center. I fell in love with everything about the production--the speeches, the humor, the music. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a paperback of The Heidi Chronicles, Uncommon Women & Others, and Isn't It Romantic and read all three plays obsessively for weeks. Then my mom decided to get me a matinee ticket for my birthday so I could go see the play again. My seat was fourth row center, and she could only afford one ticket at that price. So I went by myself. I felt so cool and grown up, especially during intermission, standing out on the Kennedy Center patio on a beautiful afternoon, amidst all the adult theatergoers. And I swear that, during curtain call, Mark "Scoop" Harelik looked right down at me. I would later wind up seeing The Sisters Rosensweig on Broadway in 1993 (with my mom and my grandmother), meaning I was lucky enough to see Madeleine Kahn (another fabulous woman who died way too young).
In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, Wasserstein was speaking at the Smithsonian. Again, it was my mother who accompanied me to hear her talk. It was in a windowless room in one of the museums (I can't remember which). At 15, I was the youngest person there, I think. Wasserstein spoke for a while about The Heidi Chronicles -- she mentioned the long monologue Heidi gives at the "Women – Where Are We Going?" gathering and admitted that she actually had to cut a lot out of it -- and about writing in general. Then she took questions from the audience. Although I was (and still am, to a great extent) usually loath to speak in public without having a prepared statement, I raised my hand. I think my mother was pleasantly surprised to see my hand go up in the air. When Wasserstein called on me, I stood up and told her how curious she'd made me about all the material she must have cut from the "Women – Where Are We Going?" monologue, and I told her I was dying to know what we missed. She was very nice and started listing all the hilarious details she'd wound up cutting. The audience laughed at most of it, so I was definitely glad that I asked.
At the end of her talk, a few people went up and spoke to her privately. I stood there patiently with my paperback while my mom waited in the back of the room. When she turned to me, I asked if she would sign my paperback with my favorite quote from Heidi: "All people deserve to fulfill their potential." She did, and I still have that autographed copy.
I don't know if I've fulfilled my potential yet. But at least her plays made me think about what my potential might be.
Phantom also wrote about Wasserstein.