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Gersten-Vassilaros, Alexandra

GERSTEN-VASSILAROS, Alexandra

PERSONAL: Born in New York, NY; married John Vassilaros; children: three sons. Education: Graduated from New York University.


ADDRESSES: Agent—International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.


CAREER: Actress in films, including Fear, Anxiety, and Depression, 1998; actress in plays, including Alone Together, Lusting after Pipino's Wife, Made in Heaven, Ladies, Loose Ends, and Beautiful Child, 2004.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jefferson Award, for My Thing of Love; Pulitzer Prize nomination, for Omnium Gatherum.


WRITINGS:

PLAYS

My Thing of Love (produced in Chicago, IL, 1992), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Theresa Rebeck) Omnium Gatherum, produced in Louisville, KY, 2003.

The Argument, produced in New York, NY, 2005.


Also author of other plays, including Supple in Combat, Mother of Invention, and I Never Told Anyone. Author of one-act plays.


SIDELIGHTS: Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros is an actress and playwright. Born in New York, she has the theater in her blood, as James Karas notes on the Web site Greek Press. Gersten-Vassilaros is the daughter of stage manager Leon Gersten and the great-granddaughter of Stefanos Pamphilidis, who came to New York from the Greek island of Ikaria in 1922. Antonis Vassilaros also immigrated to New York from Ikaria with his son, Yannis, who started a wholesale coffee business in 1919. More recently, Antonis's great-grandson, John, and Alexandra Gersten met and married. They are actually fourth cousins.


Gersten-Vassilaros studied acting at New York University and made her Broadway debut in 1984 in Lawrence Roman's Alone Together. After acting on stage and for television, she decided to try writing. Her first play, My Thing of Love, was produced by the Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago in 1992 and on Broadway three years later.


Since that time, Gersten-Vassilaros has written a number of plays, including her Pulitzer Prize-nominated Omnium Gatherum, written with Theresa Rebeck. It is a story that grew out of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and features a number of guests who have come together for a dinner party, probably in New York. Suzie, the wealthy hostess, a former caterer who now rules the domestic world, is imbued with Martha Stewart-like qualities, and the various guests immediately call to mind actual people. Robert Brustein described several of them in a New Republic review as "Roger, a right-wing loudmouth resembling Tom Clancy," "Terence, a wine-soaked left-wing Englishman putatively based on Christopher Hitchens," and "Arab academic Khalid, a benign portrait of the late Edward Said, who died the morning of the play's opening." Brustein also described the more generic characters, including "Julia, a black writer on community subjects who is more afraid of a bad review in the New York Times than of a terrorist attack; Lydia . . . a self-righteous feminist, vegan, and PETA member; and a laconic fireman named Jeff, who sits quietly throughout most of the play, scarfing down the food."


Brustein said that "much of the writing takes the form of surgical incisions into a culture that has grown fat and self-absorbed. Suzie, who believes that cigarettes 'destabilize the atmosphere,' breathes air flown in from overseas, and cultivates a hydroponic garden, exemplifies the nitwit faddism of the new capitalism." The New Yorker's John Lahr wrote that Suzie's "cringe-inducing, self-referential banter is a perfectly pitched indictment of wealth. She has the best of everything and knows the name of nothing. 'This is an exquisite Tenuta dell'Ornellaia from the House of Something, the year, let's see, squinting, squinting, nineteen hundred and eighty-five,' she says of the wine. She eats the food of foreign countries, but, when the notion of sharing with them is raised, she draws a blank. 'Share more with whom?' she asks, startled." Variety's Charles Isherwood called the authors' ear for social satire "acute. . . . Among the evening's more effective running gags is saucer-eyed Lydia's increasing hunger; by evening's end, this mild-mannered vegan is ready to murder for some edible food. Also hilarious are Suzie's cheery attempts to divert attention from intellectual antagonisms to culinary obscurities."


Toward the end of the party, and the play, Suzie's "mystery guest" appears, a terrorist named Mohammed. He is subdued by the other guests after picking up a knife and attempting to attack them, and then proceeds to tell them his views on the Palestinian occupation, American trade embargoes, and America's bombing of innocent civilians in Japan. It becomes apparent that the terrorist and the fireman are already dead, and probably the others as well. The dinner party is a party of ghosts, and as it comes to an end, the sound of choppers gives way to the screams of jet planes. A blast showers pieces of paper onto the stage as the actors freeze in silence, all to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing "I Got the World on a String."

The Argument is a play that deals with the issues of love and abortion. The argument is between a man and his pregnant lover, an artist who is content not having children in favor of her successful career.


BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Back Stage, March 12, 2004, Simi Horwitz, "A Playwright Returns to Acting," p. 7.

Entertainment Weekly, October 24, 2003, Melissa Rose Bernardo, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 115.

Hollywood Reporter, October 2, 2003, Frank Scheck, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 10.

New Leader, September-October, 2003, Stefan Kanfer, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 49.

New Republic, November 17, 2003, Robert Brustein, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 27.

New Yorker, October 6, 2003, John Lahr, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 136.

Variety, April 14, 2003, Chris Jones, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 35; September 29, 2003, Charles Isherwood, review of Omnium Gatherum, p. 68.

ONLINE

Curtain Up,http://www.curtainup.com/ (March 20, 2005), review of Beautiful Child.

Greek Press,http://greekpress.ca/ (October 25, 2004), James Karas, review of Ominum Gatherum and a profile of Gersten-Vassilaros.

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