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Tribute to a Montgomery Fellow

Wendy Wasserstein 1950-2006

When it came to human relations, playwright Wendy Wasserstein had the equivalent of "perfect pitch." No matter how many award-winning plays she contributed to the stage repertoire or how much public recognition she received, she always found time to take young artists under her wing.

"A deep generosity and kind spirit emanated from Wendy," remembers Broughton Hansen '06, who worked with her on a reading of her play, Third last spring in Moore Theater. The performance, by students and faculty, preceded the play's New York debut.

Wendy Wasserstein
The late playwright and Montgomery Fellow Wendy Wasserstein

Dartmouth was a special place for Wasserstein, who spent three weeks here last spring as a Montgomery Fellow, and news of her death on January 30 at the age of 55 stunned the campus. She was a keynote speaker for the Senior Symposium in 2000 and said, in an April interview with The Dartmouth, "It does feel great to be here. Sometimes you come back to benchmarks in your life, and that's how I feel about New England."

No one who came to hear her lecture in Moore Theater on April 27 would have guessed how ill she was, and none of the students who worked with her on Third, or on The Heidi Chronicles, produced later in the summer, could have imagined she'd be gone so soon.

Susan Wright, executive director of the Montgomery Endowment and wife of President James Wright, says that Wasserstein credited her Montgomery Fellowship in the Lincoln Center Playbill of Third. "Last spring," Wright says, "Wendy moved into our community, became our neighbor and best friend, opened our windows and our hearts, and brought us laughter."

Beginning in 1977 with Uncommon Women and Others, Wasserstein produced one Broadway hit after another. With wit, compassion, and astute observation, her plays chronicled the lives of women coming of age during the feminist movement of the late 20th century. The Sisters Rosensweig premiered on Broadway in 1993, and her 1989 The Heidi Chronicles won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, a Tony Award for best play in 1989, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

Christa Hinckley '08, another member of Third's student cast, says, "Just because she was famous, she didn't presume to know more than a college freshman. I'm thankful that she was able to leave us with some of her words, her thoughts." Gordon Gray III '05, who played the irrepressible roué Scoop Rosenbaum in the summer mainstage production of The Heidi Chronicles, says that Wasserstein brought reality to those whose dreams focused on the theater. "Unsolicited generosity comes to mind when I think of her," says Gray. "Because of Wendy, I aspire to help others achieve their dreams as much as she helped me follow mine."

"Her passionate belief in the transforming power of the theater was apparent to all who met her," recalls Professor of Theater Margaret Spicer, while Provost Barry Scherr says, "She will be missed as a playwright, but she will be equally missed as a genuine and warm human being."

"We will never forget her time with us," adds Peter Hackett, Director of Theater at the Hopkins Center.

In addition to her plays, Wasserstein wrote essays, screenplays, children's books, and satires. Her last book and her first novel, Elements of Style, will be published next month.

By LAUREL STAVIS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08