It's not hard to see where Gina Wendkos' plays come from. In "Boys and Girls/Men and Women" (at the Odyssey through Sunday) there's an extended, humiliating scene where a 16-year old, at the behest of her boyfriend, agrees to "prove her love" by bedding down with his buddies.
"It has to do with not being very strong and needing a male figure," Wendkos explained. "I know that after my father died, if a guy said to me, 'Come to China: I'm going sell you into white slavery, but I'm going to love you'--I'd say, 'OK, let me pack.' At 15-16, there is no self. If you lose a parent at that age, it flips you out beyond. Suddenly you're no longer a child, because you don't have that parent structure. You're not woman, you're not an adult. What are you? If someone offers you affection, you eat it up."
Ironically, it is not the damaged woman who's the central character, but the crude and manipulative Vinnie, whom we meet as a 16-year-old peacock in Miami (where Wendkos grew up), then 20 years later in New York--still strutting, self-serving and full of contempt.
"I knew Vinnie as a kid, then grown up," noted the playwright, 37. "He's a sweet guy. I care for him so much--even in real life, and he's such a scumbag. See, I think he's the epitome of what most men are anyway; he's just more charming about it. Sure, I know what's wrong with him, and I'm not advocating his behavior. But it's a real American attitude: 'I'm gonna (get) you before you (get) me.' "
As for the imbalance of male/female power: "It's wrong, it's sick. People who are comfortable with their sexuality don't have to do that. You know, it skips the middle class; there, if someone cheats, it's wrong. But in the upper class-- hey, they're above it all. And in the lower class, they think, 'I don't have a microwave, I don't have a car. This doesn't apply to me. I can do whatever I want.' "
And, she reminded, the exploitation can take on many forms.
"What's so different about the morality of women who marry for money--or guys who marry beautiful models and when they start gaining weight, they're out the door. What Vinnie does is just clearer to hate. And I promise you, it's very common. Very few people have an innate sense of morality. If you allow yourself to receive abuse, people will find you and give it to you. But like Anne Frank, I believe in the goodness of people. I believe it will triumph eventually."
Currently a lot of good seems to be coming into Wendkos' life, beginning with the reception of "Boys and Girls" (which, she admits "was a risk, definitely. But I've given up so much of my life to write plays--I have no skills, no assets--so I figured that if I was gonna do it, I might as well say everything I wanted to"). Since arriving from New York, she's also been hired to write episodes for television's "Crime Story" and the new series "Wiseguy." And last weekend, another Wendkos play, the one-woman "Personality" (which ran at the Odyssey in shorter form in 1985) reopened at the theater.
In spite of the variety of her work, there is a constant: Wendkos' own life. "It's true," she nodded. I used to write for the soaps--and even then, I found things about them that had to do with me. If I was feeling creepy today, OK, I'm gonna make you (the character) feel creepy. It's like they were these dolls and you moved them around. We're not talking Sartre here, but they're emotions--and you make them as true as you can."