“Wit” is an intense theatrical experience!
Playwright Margaret Edson is absolutely brilliant and brings a world to the attention of the Broadway audience that many of us are not familiar with. How many people know what happens to a woman, in this case a professor, who has been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer? Who knows how a person is made to feel when they agree to get treated by being part of a research study? Who has experienced the cold indifference of the researchers and the research fellows, doctors in training, who are assigned to the case?
In addition to giving an inside look at someone who is having this experience, the audience also gets to watch a woman who is used to being a strong trendsetter face the greatest challenge of her life. She is looking at a great deal of pain and treatments that will make her gravely ill; she is looking at being probed and poked and humiliated.
Edson presents this character, professor Vivian Bearing, as a woman who has always been into literature, namely the poetry of John Donne, which dealt with death. She has taught it for over 20 years. While an outstanding scholar, she has not cared for her students or shown them any humanity. When she is in the hospital fighting for her life and blatantly experiencing the noncaring, cold attitude of the resident fellows assigned to her, she reflects on the way she has treated people and how that is now coming right back to her.
Cynthia Nixon gives a penetrating, poignant and powerful performance as Bearing. Her character talks directly to the audience and, at times, gives lectures about Donne’s poetry, but she is always very honest about the terrible conditions she is enduring in this university hospital setting. Bearing is someone who has always been about academics, to the point that she comes into this disease and experience completely alone, having no man, woman or child in her life. No siblings and no parents. Her college colleagues and former students don’t have any concern for her.
Gripping is definitely a way to describe this script, unforgettably moving describes this theatrical experience.
Greg Keller portrays the cold-hearted, bedside manner-lacking Jason Posner, MD, the research fellow working on Bearing’s case. He approaches her with no warmth or human kindness, whether he is talking about the pain of her condition or how she feels. He actually explains to her that he chose to do research in cancer because “it is awesome.”
Bearing is treated like a specimen on so many levels. It is only Nurse Susie, played by Carra Patterson, an African-American actress making her Broadway debut, who treats her with any compassion. She is caring, tender and helpful to Bearing, and is someone whom Bearing learns to relax with and trust. Her character is pivotal to this patient’s final moments being truly final.
Patterson is absolutely incredible in her role. Joining her in the cast and also making his Broadway debut is Chike Johnson, who plays multiple roles as a hospital technician, student and fellow.
This play will leave you stunned, and while there is humor throughout, it is also very heavy. It is appropriate for an adult audience. Director Lynne Meadows does a magnificent job with this outstanding cast, which also includes Michael Countryman, Suzanne Bertish, Pun Bandhu, Jessica Dickey and Zachary Spicer.
For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.witonbroadway.com/tickets.html.