Susan and Wendy, in Their Own Words

Sontag Reborn, at the Public/ Under the Radar. Photo by James Gibbs

It’s all about the sources in “Wendy and the Lost Boys” and Sontag Reborn, two wholly different cultural artifacts that hold microscopes to egoistic, road-paving women. For “Lost Boys,” a biography by Julie Salamon, that giggly specimen is playwright Wendy Wasserstein; for the new play Sontag Reborn it’s writer and uber-critic Susan Sontag. Each piece features valuable contributions from biographer or adaptor—Salomon’s chronicle of Wasserstein’s untimely death is literally tear-jerking, and actress Moe Angelos gives Sontag’s glittering words, drawn verbatim from her journals, some human pettiness and petulance.

But it’s fundamentally the voice of the first person, independent of interpretation or commentary, that is most powerful in both works. For “Lost Boys,” that’s quotes and letters from Wasserstein and contemporaries. For Sontag Reborn, it’s the original, Sontag journal. The book and the play are valuable insofar as they give us a chance to hear the clear voices of these women—individual, insecure, ambitious—one more time. Here’s a very small sampling of  some unadulterated, straight from the source gems.

“WENDY AND THE LOST BOYS”

Letter to Caroline Aaron

When Aaron, an actress in the out-of-town tryout of The Heidi Chronicles, was replaced in the New York production, Wasserstein started out an apology note with typically funny, food-related self-deprecating humor.

Dearest Caroline;

Oy Gavlat!! I’ve had a baguette, a Saga Blue Cheese, and a nice bag of Reese pieces [sic] before I sat down to write this note. I can’t tell you how difficult this is, or how very fond of I am of you…

Of that letter, Aaron later said,  “It was a lesson everybody in show business could learn. Good manners go a long way. But even people in the mafia have better manners than in show business.”

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Peace, Love, and Belarus

In a gesture of solidarity and dissent, we’re gathering today to protest censorship. “Free Belarus,” a theater company performing in downtown’s Under the Radar Festival, has temporarily escaped suppression by fleeing Belarus for New York. Their play, “Being Harold Pinter,” is the runaway hit of the moment.

THE EVENT

Today’s demonstration has been organized via text message: “PROTEST JAN 19@12P. RAIN OR SHINE. WE WILL NOT BE DETERRED. SPREAD THE WORD.” The Public Theater (which runs Under the Radar) is producing the event with Amnesty International. At noon, the scheduled starting time, about 200 very prompt people have gathered on East 67th and Lex. Some signs are homemade but most bear the trademark diagonal, block lettering of all Public Theater advertising. (Am I a cynic for thinking that this marketing continuity makes the whole protest look like an exercise in brand expansion?)

We’re a docile lot, we protestors. We file carefully onto our patch of sidewalk on the southern side of the street while photographers take their place to our north. It’s worth noting that we’re actually a whole block away from the Belarusian mission to the UN — permit shenanigans mean we can only shout to that most political of sites, the Hunter College Bookstore.

Still, the event has a feeling of urgency. Public Theater interns lead chants:

Intern: “What do we want?”

Us: “Human Rights!”

Intern: “When do we want it?”

Us: “Now!”

When we tire of this call and response, we’re told to shout something that sounds like “Jeevay Belarus! Jeevay Belarus!” This is Belarusian, I guess; most of us just skip the “Jeevay” part and join in on “Belarus.” (Note to self: learn Belarusian for next year’s protest.)

The Police are out, and, ever to form, we all politely defer and go where we’re told. We don’t want to crowd the sidewalk, do we?

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