Her Again

9780062342843_p0_v4_s192x300     donald-trump-meryl-streep-02     I liked Meryl Streep better before I read Michael Schulman’s biography – Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep. But then she delivered her hilarious impersonation of Donald Trump at the annual Shakespeare in the Park Public Theater Gala in New York City, and she is back as one of my favorites.

Schulman paints Streep as the actor doing her job, working hard at her craft, and he is clearly enamored of the Oscar star as he ticks off her talents and aptitudes; he slogs through anyone who has ever had a connection to Meryl Streep, with impressive name-dropping – Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, Robert De Niro, Joe Papp. Streep purposefully adapted herself to being what was expected, from the ditzy popular cheerleader, faking her way through high school with a tinkling laugh she had practiced or monopolizing all the leading roles at Yale graduate school, overshadowing her classmates, including Wendy Wasserstein and Sigourney Weaver.

One name, however, reaffirms her humanity and offers a glimpse into the real woman. Famous for his role as Fredo Carleone in the Godfather and his swan song in The Deerhunter, the late John Cazale was the love of her life. Surprisingly, she married Don Gummer six months after Cazale’s death.

The book ends with Streep winning her first Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer. Although Schulman includes twenty-four pages of reference notes, Streep herself did not participate – Schulman thanks her in the Acknowledgments for “not throwing up any significant roadblocks.” Who she is when she is not performing is kept private, the way Streep wants it. To be fair, biographies are not easy to write – especially when the person is still alive. Let me show my bias when I say the only biography I ever really liked was Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra.

Initially, Meryl Streep was a stage actress, honing her craft in Joseph Papp productions in Shakespeare in the Park, so her recent humorous portrayal of Donald Trump was in a familiar venue. The New York Times said Streep’s Trump was “more than credible … down to the pursed lips and low-hanging belly…She got the braggadocio-inflected voice, too, even while singing.”

It’s worth looking for on you-tube.

Related Review: Cleopatra: A Life

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Wendy and the Lost Boys

When I saw Wendy Wasserstein sitting in an audience in New York City, I was like all the others Julie Salamon said “would stop her on the street…not with starstruck awe but with familiarity…”  Like everyone else, I thought I knew her; I even have a friend who went to Mt. Holyoke, her alma mater.  Watching her plays felt like having a private conversation with a good friend.  In Wendy and the Lost Boys, a biography of Wendy Wasserstein, Salamon promises to reveal some of the private secrets behind the public life of the playwright.

I’ve studied the pictures preceding each chapter and read through her beginnings, growing up in an immigrant family in Brooklyn from 1950 – 71.  Her mother married twice – Wasserstein’s father was also her uncle, and her older step-brother, Abner, was quietly placed in a “special” school.  More secrets to be revealed? Who fathered her child?  What was it like having Meryl Streep as a fellow graduate student?  Salamon’s story reads like a long gossipy magazine article with sections on “becoming a writer,” the Pulitzer prize winning Heidi Chronicles, famous friends, mother of a toddler at age 50…

“A friend often told her, ‘You were born into great material.'”

Francine Prose, wrote a review of the book for the New York Times:   What Wendy Wasserstein Wrought.   Charles Isherwood’s 2006 article – Her Plays Spoke to a Generation – not only summarizes her writings and craft but also shows her as the flagbearer for women who could laugh at themselves while they thought they could or should have it all – husband, children, and career.

For Wendy, two out of three wasn’t bad.