The Sisters Rosensweig

Study Guide for Wendy Wasserstein's Comedy-Drama

Wendy Wasserstein speaks during the Dramatists Guild Fifth Annual Benefit Dinner at the Hudson Theater May 10, 2004 in New York City.

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In the preface of her play, Wendy Wasserstein explains the delightful yet confusing moment when she watched the first preview of her play, The Sisters Rosensweig.

Wasserstein had created what she felt was her most serious play. So she was surprised when the audience burst into fits of good-natured laughter. The playwright had thought she had written an "important" play about family tensions, social pressures and expectations, and the historical events that go on around us when we scarcely pay attention. All of that is in the play. So, why were people laughing? Because the themes are in the subtext, but the humorous moments (generated by Wasserstein's witty, strong-willed characters) are blatant.

Main Characters of "The Sisters Rosensweig"

The Sisters Rosensweig takes place in the London home of Sara Goode (formerly Sara Rosenweig). In her mid-50s, Sara has attained a successful career in banking. She has a bright seventeen-year-old daughter, not to mention a couple of ex-husbands.

Three sisters reunite to celebrate the eldest's (Sara) birthday. It is also a solemn occasion. Their mother recently passed away. Due to her own illness, Sara was unable to visit her mother in America. The family reunion is the first time the three sisters have been together since their mother, Rita Rosensweig died.

The younger sisters are just as bright and vivacious as Sara, but they have taken different paths in life. Pfeni, the youngest, has spent her life journeying around the world, writing travel books. For years, Pfeni has maintained a long-distance relationship with a bisexual man, a successful theater director named Geoffrey Duncan.

Gorgeous, the middle sister, is the most traditional of the three. She can't help but boast about her loving husband, her adorable children, and her promising new career as an advice guru on a local cable channel. Of the three sisters, she is the most rooted in their Jewish heritage, as well as the most stringent believer in the "American Dream." In fact, she is the only Rosensweig sister with a permanent residence in America, and can't quite understand why her sisters have chosen such unconventional paths. In addition to these traits, Gorgeous has some vanity/envy issues. Whenever she is upset, she has a compelling desire to shop for clothes and shoes. At the same time, her fundamental values lie with family. When she is given a gift of an expensive Chanel suit, she decides to return it to the store and use the cash to help pay for her children's education.

Male Characters in "The Sisters Rosensweig"

Each of the sisters (and Sara's daughter Tess) make choices that affect their romantic life. They choose men who add both stress and happiness to their lives. For instance, Tess has been dating Tom, a friendly, soft-spoken young man from Lithuania. Because the Soviet Union is on the eve of its collapse (the play takes place in 1991), Tom wants to travel to Lithuanian and be part of his homeland's struggle for independence. Tess cannot decide if she should join his cause, or stay in London to finish school (and discover a cause of her own). Tom represents the average, good-natured young male. But Sara wants something greater for her daughter.

Mervyn serves as Sara's romantic foil. He is funny, sociable, smart, down-to-earth. He appreciates traditional values and a "nice Jewish lady." The more Sara rejects Mervyn's advances, the Yet, he is not mired in the past. He is enthusiastic about the fall of the Soviet Union and admires the younger characters' interest in political activism and social change. Although he is a widower, he is ready to move on in his life. Even his profession connotes his affiliation with the old and the new values. He is a successful furrier, but of the politically correct variety: he designs, makes, and sells fake furs.

Mervyn does not plan to alter Sara's career or family life (the way a traditional husband might); he just wants to find a romantic, loving companion, which he hopes will be Sara. In the end, he is satisfied with his one-night fling and a promise that she and Mervyn will meet again in the near future.

Geoffrey Duncan is the most colorful and unorthodox character in the play. He is a bisexual theater director who claims to be madly in love with Pfeni. In every scene, he is vibrant and whimsical. During the first two acts, he claims to be a "closet heterosexual," committed to a monogamous, "straight" relationship. Unfortunately, when he ultimately decides that he "misses men" his choice is a heavy blow for Pfeni, who was just beginning to seriously consider a life together. (Wasserstein further explored the subject of a woman's unrequited love for a gay man in her screenplay for The Object of My Affection.)

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Bradford, Wade. "The Sisters Rosensweig." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Bradford, Wade. (2021, February 16). The Sisters Rosensweig. Retrieved from Bradford, Wade. "The Sisters Rosensweig." ThoughtCo. (accessed September 19, 2021).