The Sisters Rosensweig | Critical Review by Jack Kroll

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of The Sisters Rosensweig.
This section contains 489 words
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Critical Review by Jack Kroll

SOURCE: "You Gotta Have Heart," in Newsweek, Vol. CXX, No. 18, November 2, 1992, p. 104.

In the following review of The Sisters Rosensweig, which premiered at New York's Lincoln Center under the direction of Daniel Sullivan, Kroll maintains that Wasserstein's female characters are poorly developed and that the play's humor, while entertaining, evades rather than confronts serious issues.

There's a fine borderline between entertaining an audience and ingratiating oneself with it. In her new play The Sisters Rosensweig Wendy Wasserstein violates that border. Wasserstein, who won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for her play The Heidi Chronicles, has dealt deftly with the thorny ironies of the young feminist middle class. But in her new play she settles for—no, insists on—the clever laugh, the situation that charms rather than challenges. The play deals with three Jewish-American sisters celebrating the 54th birthday of the eldest, Sara, in London, where she's become a big-shot banker. Sara (Jane Alexander) has been on the cover of Fortune, but her emotional life is in a spiritual safe-deposit box. Pfeni (Frances McDormand) is a travel writer who restlessly ricochets between the world's flash points. Gorgeous (Madeline Kahn) is a housewife who's embarked on a radio career as Dr. Gorgeous, a kind of non-Teutonic Dr. Ruth. Consider the possibilities.

Wasserstein considers them, evokes them and then gaily abandons them with gags and banter that use her undoubted comedic gifts to evade rather than confront. The breakup of the Soviet Union, the American recession, the plight of the homeless, the question of Jewish identity, the problem of bisexuality—all these are embodied in specific situations, and all are disposed of with a winsome superficiality that would look one-dimensional in sitcom land.

Mervyn Kane (Robert Klein), a faux furrier who falls for Sara, speaks of the anti-Semitism he's encountered in his travels. So? So nothing, there's no follow-through—Wasserstein can't wait to get to a party scene where she dispenses shop-worn gossip about hanky-panky between Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye. Pfeni's improbable affair with a bisexual English director ends even more improbably when he informs her that a lecture he gave to a women's club made him realize that "I miss men." Wasserstein even commits the mortal sin of betraying her own characters. In a cheap-laugh scene, she has Tess (Julie Dretzin), Sara's idealistic daughter, give up her "revolutionary" zeal, putting on the Bergdorfian baubles of her aunt Gorgeous.

Such japery demeans the work of this gifted writer. In her collection of essays, Bachelor Girls, she confesses that "being funny for me [has] always been just a way to get by, a way to be likable yet to remain removed." Director Daniel Sullivan and a notable cast can't conquer the play's final effect of likability smothering substance. Wasserstein's most appealing character is Merv the furrier, played with fine with and heart by comic Robert Klein. It's nice to see a feminist writer show her pivotal female character saved by a real mensch.

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This section contains 489 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jack Kroll