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Remembering Wendy

Filichia offers a personal remembrance of the late Wendy Wasserstein. logo
Wendy Wasserstein
I was so sorry to hear of Wendy Wasserstein's death on Monday. We'd all learned some time ago that she was seriously ill but, because we hadn't heard anything in recent weeks, many of us were hoping for the best. Alas, it wasn't to be.

My favorite memory of Wendy is of something that happened in late 1993. I was to emcee a Drama Desk panel on her then-current off-Broadway hit The Sisters Rosensweig. Joining her on the panel would be the play's stars: Jane Alexander, Madeline Kahn, and Frances McDormand. En route to the luncheon, I stopped at a corner grocery store to buy a soda. While waiting in line to be served, I picked up a copy of Life magazine from the nearby wire rack and was delighted to find that Ms. Wasserstein had an article on the last page. In it, she wrote about taking a trip to Firefly -- Noël Coward's home in Jamaica -- with her friends Gerry Gutierrez and André Bishop. She recounted that the three of them weren't the easiest dinner patrons for the house's chef: "André is allergic to fish, Gerry is a vegetarian, and I prefer candy."

"Can I help you?" said the clerk with a "This-isn't-a-library" edge in his voice, exacerbated by my not noticing that the person in front of me had left and that it was now my turn to order. I put the magazine back into its rack as neatly as possible and, at the same moment, spied an array of candy in front of the counter. Among the various types for sale was Hershey's Cookies and Cream, a candy bar that hadn't been on the market very long -- though long enough for me to have already purchased and devoured one a week or so earlier. I bought one in the hope that Wendy hadn't yet encountered it.

The panel discussion went splendidly, with plenty of funny and endearing moments. Then I mentioned my very favorite part of The Sisters Rosensweig: Deep into the play, after the three sisters had endured more than a few crises and disappointments, they all sat on a couch. Gorgeous, the sister whom Madeline Kahn portrayed, became nicely sentimental; she said she wished that, on one of their birthdays, at least one of the siblings would be able to say, "We had a moment of unadulterated happiness." Then there was a pause, during which no one said anything. This I loved because, as I told the panelists, "that's their moment of happiness -- just being together and enjoying each other's company, each of them having the unconditional love and support of her sisters." I beamed at the foursome, but my smile soon lessened during a long silence. Kahn sheepishly looked over to McDormand and then to Alexander before all three looked quizzically at Wasserstein. "Gee," said Wendy, "I didn't mean that at all."

Okay, not all of my perceptions can be winners. But, after the panel had concluded, I did have one consolation prize for Wendy. I went up to her and ever-so-slowly eased the candy bar from my inside jacket pocket, only step-by-step letting her see the first letters of the Hershey logo. But Wendy, clearly no stranger to the Hershey's experience, didn't need to see past the first "e" before she literally started gurgling with pleasure.

A week later, I received a note from her. It read, "That candy bar was unbelievable and I haven't come across another one since -- and, believe me, I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I enjoyed our Drama Desk luncheon, and now, whenever I see the three sisters on the couch, I think, 'Peter Filichia is right; that's their moment of happiness.' Thank you for the insight -- although that candy bar made the greater impression."

At least once a year, I get a phone call from a friend who says, "I was watching this show [on TV] where Wendy Wasserstein was being interviewed, and she mentioned you." I've never seen it, but I'm told that the interviewer asked her if someone had ever imposed an interpretation on one of her plays and, if so, whether or not she thought there was something to it. She cited my take on The Sisters Rosensweig. As time went on, I did a few more panel discussions with her. She'd always mention that she came to agree with me and then would inevitably add, "Got any more candy for me?" I'm so sorry that I won't be able to give her any more.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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