Wendy Wasserstein possessed a genius for friendship—a superfluity of human kindness, warmth, and an un-cynical astuteness that made her the perfect companion. Fifteen years ago, during an Amherst College reunion, we met for breakfast at one of our old college hangouts, the Miss Florence Diner in the town of Florence, Massachusetts. We were joined by another college friend, who happened to be the model for one of the characters in Wendy's play, Uncommon Women and Others. Our mini-reunion was, as always, an opportunity for virtuoso gossip, joking, reflection, self-analysis, self-disclosure. Over omelets, our mutual friend, Mary Jane, introduced the theme of desire and entitlement: "I don't know how to say 'I want it'," she complained—to which I added (cleverly, I thought), "I know howto say 'I want it', but not 'I deserve it.'" Wendy, of course, trumpedus both. "You're both being ridiculous," she said with a snort. I just got back from Hollywood: the land of 'I want it, I deserve it, and I'm going to mess you up if I don't get it.'"
Thus, Wendy transformed an occasion of friendship and sociability into something more—something not only loving, insightful, and extremely funny, but also challenging, creative, analytical, and maybe even allegorical.
She had the insight and humanity to demonstrate her love and care for others with abandon. She had the courage to see her own life and the lives around her as emblems of an era—its political and philosophical as well as emotional trajectories. Her plays contained Chekhovian echoes, as her friends and colleagues have noted; at least for me, they also evoked a Shavian kind of moral imagination and challenge, but with too much humor, warmth, and regret—too much life—ever to seem formulaic or austere.
In our crowd of college friends, there were all sorts of aspiring writers, musicians, and critics. In the spring of 1969, many of us at Amherst and Mount Holyoke were caught up in the production of a rock musical called The Dream Engine. The show, written by Jim Steinman (then an Amherst senior), was quickly optioned by Joe Papp for a production at the PublicTheater in New York. Although the New York production never occurred,The Dream Engine seemed a harbinger: this was a moment for apocalyptic rock musicals and loud anti-war protests. Wendy's literary voice-already nuanced, warm, astute, civilized-seemed far too personal and quiet to represent our privileged and self-satisfied corner of the Woodstockgeneration. The world she inhabited was improved because this humane,evolved voice got so much louder over the years. And now we've lost this beautiful loud voice-far, far too soon.