NY1 Theater Review: "Wit"
A new production of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit” debuted on Broadway Thursday night with Cynthia Nixon taking on the role of a professor who is dying of cancer. NY1’s Roma Torre filed the following review.
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It's easy to see why Margaret Edson won the Pulitzer Prize for "Wit", her first and only play. It's a work of such unflinching honesty and intelligence, there's no denying this is a masterpiece. It's also brutally clinical in its depiction of a woman dying of cancer and that probably explains why it's taken so long for this 17-year-old drama to finally land on Broadway.
That character so vividly portrayed by Kathleen Chalfant off-Broadway is likely seared into memory for those lucky enough to have seen the original production. With shaved head, Cynthia Nixon bravely took up the challenge and she's certainly proved her mettle. Dr. Vivian Bearing is an exacting professor specializing in the metaphysical works of 17th century poet John Donne.
Edson’s unsentimental portrait of Vivian—a scholar who filters everything through her massive intellect—is fascinating. After learning that she has advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, she cooly cites Donne's poem "Death, Be Not Proud" and seems more concerned about misplaced commas than her terminal condition. It’s not until her final moments, in the throes of pain and sickness that she’s finally able to come to terms with her death. And in the end, it’s the simplest things that emerge the most profound.
Lynne Meadow’s intensely focused production is very well acted. As Vivian's mentor, Suzanne Bertish stands out, evoking a full life in just two short scenes. But Wit rises and falls on the strength of its lead and while Cynthia Nixon, a natural in softer roles, may seem miscast. She gamely manages to sharpen the hard edges required to turn Vivian's harrowing journey into stunning theatre.
Staged correctly, this revelatory play is powerfully life affirming. Given the tremendous emotional and cerebral depth of this MTC production, I'd have to say Ms. Edson's masterwork has been done proud.