Sunday, April 26, 2009

I want to be the Italian-American 21st Century answer to Wendy Wasserstein...

Several times, I have referred to Peter Cincotti as our generation's answer to Billy Joel...I want to be our generation's answer to Wendy Wasserstein.

This past week, I read through almost all of Wendy Wasserstein's plays.

I do most of my reading on the train. I have been riding the train for long enough to stop caring about what other random trainriders think of me...so if I am reading something that moves me to laugh and cry, I will laugh and cry...right on the train. (I have come a long way. I used to try to stifle my tears. When I was reading Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike years ago, I finally had to stuff the book in my bag, lean my face towards the window, and bawl. Parts of that book were absolutely heartbreaking.)

Wendy Wasserstein makes me laugh and cry and nod my head in recognition. How is it possible that she based characters on me before I was even born? The main character in Isn't It Romantic is described as "a little kooky, a little sweet, a little unconfident."

I am absolutely a little kooky, a little sweet and a little unconfident! (Probably more like "very very much so" of all those things...)

I'm at that funny age right now where it seems that everybody around me is getting married and having babies. (Which is strange, because none of my close friends are anywhere near any of that, so it shouldn't feel like it's "everybody.") Wendy understood what that feeling is like...to feel alone, or like you are running out of time, or like you have to chose one way or the other, that you can't possibly have it all.

In the same play with the kooky, sweet, unconfident character, another says:


No matter how lonely you get or how many birth announcements you receive, the trick is not to get frightened. There's nothing wrong with being alone.


(I'd like to add that I think it's very sad that "singletons" are automatically also labeled as "alone." I don't think anybody is really alone...if somebody is surrounded by loving relatives and friends or even art...how are they "alone" just because they're not registering for china with somebody? I think it's very insulting.)

Lately, I've been wondering if I'm too sheltered and haven't lived enough to ever be a good writer...after all, you are supposed to "write what you know"...and maybe I haven't known enough of the real word to succeed. Maybe I never will...and then what will I do?

Reading Wendy's plays makes me feel better. I don't think Wendy exactly lived a life full of Lifetime-worthy melodrama. She made the ordinary extraordinary. She found humor and life lessons in everything.

Maybe that's what all of us wannabe writers need to do.

Wendy died at 55. She had cancer. Her little daughter was only about six when she died. I have been around more than my share of cancer, and when I think about the woman who wrote these wonderful, witty, hilariously funny and touching stories suffering in that way, I feel incredibly sad...even sadder than I do about the loss of such a brilliant writer.

While I was reading her plays, I occasionally would think, "She's gone...she's never going to write anything ever again. We'll never have a new Wendy Wasserstein play to read. What if another Wendy Wasserstein never comes along again?"

I would have loved to have met her and talked to her. I'm disappointed that I never will. We could have been friends. She would have read my plays and given me her honest feedback.

Maybe we even would have swapped curly hair tips.

Maybe I shouldn't be aiming to be the "next" anything. Maybe Peter Cincotti isn't the next Billy Joel...maybe he's the first Peter Cincotti. Maybe I just have to work on being the best first Diana Rissetto I can be.

Diana Rissetto

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