In 1992, Wendy Wasserstein was already one of America’s best-known playwrights, with a Pulitzer Prize on her mantelpiece for 1989’s “The Heidi Chronicles.”
Then “The Sisters Rosensweig” premiered on Broadway, and she became even more acclaimed.
This story of three loving, argumentative and altogether uncommon middle-aged sisters hit a chord with audiences, especially with American’s legions of other uncommon 50-something women. It ran for more than a year.
It’s about three sisters who gather in London to celebrate the eldest’s 54th birthday. There, they trade insights, insults, one-liners and deep arguments about men, careers and life in general.
“Ms. Wasserstein’s generous group portrait is not only a comedy, but also a play of character and shared reflection, as the author confronts the question of why the sisters behave the way they do,” wrote Mel Gussow in a rave review in the New York Times.
“The immediate answer is that they are Rosensweigs and are only doing what is expected of them. The play offers sharp truths about what can divide relatives and what can draw them together.”
Wasserstein’s previous plays – “The Heidi Chronicles” and “Uncommon Women and Others” – were notable for their snappy one-liners and their feminist perspective.
“The Sisters Rosensweig” still had the one-liners, but the feminism was in the background. Two of the strongest and most vividly written characters are two of the men in the sisters’ lives.
The three sisters – Sara, Gorgeous and Pfeni – are modeled partially on the three Wasserstein sisters, but don’t mistake this for autobiography.
“The characters are part real, part made up,” Wasserstein said in a New York Times interview. “But my play is fiction. Fiction! I’m not putting my sisters on stage.”
She said she deliberately set out to tell a story about an under-served demographic in America’s entertainment culture, “women who are not 23.”
“Nobody in Hollywood says, ‘Oh, boy, let’s do a play about a 54-year-old woman who falls in love, who still has possibilities,’ ” she told the Times.
The Broadway production starred Jane Alexander and Madeline Kahn, and – over its 556-performance run – later added Linda Lavin, Hal Linden and Amy Ryan.
The play has since enjoyed a robust life in regional theaters, where it has gained a reputation for providing juicy roles for both women and men.
Spokane’s Interplayers Ensemble snapped up the rights in 1996 and produced an excellent production, directed by Joan Welch.
The new Spokane Civic Theatre production is directed by Marianne McLaughlin. The cast inclues Sara Nicholls, Dave Rideout, Alyssa Day, JP O’Shaughnessy, Gary Pierce, Leigh Sandness, Esa Lariviere and David McCarthy.
One difference between 1996 and 2011: Wendy Wasserstein is no longer with us. She died in 2006 at age 55.
But her voice will come to life on the Civic stage.