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Scott's Theatre Beat: Wit

Winter 2012

Wit brings new meaning to Witty 

     Cynthia Nixon as Vivian Bearing, PhD, gives one of the best performances of any actor on Broadway this season in a beautifully realized production of Wit by Margaret Edson and directed with great skill by Lynne Meadow. Wit is told from the perspective of a woman with Stage Four ovarian cancer in a series of flashbacks showing the progress of the disease from diagnosis to death. 

     Ms. Nixon embodies the look of a patient undergoing chemotherapy with all the attendant complications of hair and weight loss. She stands on stage in a hospital nightgown giving us a lecture on the last scenes in the life of a college professor who only a short time before was lecturing college students on John Dunne’s metaphysical poetry. This brilliant and exacting teacher is being thrust into a world where she is the subject of experimental treatments administered by brilliant and exacting research doctor’s detached from the struggles of their dying patient. 

     Michael Countryman(Harvey Kelekian MD) is excellent as the lead research doctor. He delivers a performance that captures the enthusiasm of a researcher for their subject without making an emotional connection with the human that contains the subject of the research. He also plays the distracted father of Vivian in one of the flashback scenes. 

     Kelekian’s emotional detachment is echoed with a twist by the performance of Greg Keller as Jason Posner, M.D., the former student of Vivian’s who is the research

assistant to Dr. Kelekian.  Mr. Keller does a good job of showing the conflicting feelings that his character has for Vivian as he tries to separate his experience as her student

from that as her primary care doctor and cancer researcher. 

     Up to this point his interactions with Vivian have been professionally detached but with an edge of human concern. But it becomes clear that any conflict of emotions he may feel towards Vivian are minor when deciding between humanity and research.  Vivian asks why he chose oncology and he says, "Cancer is the only thing I ever wanted. No really, cancer is…” Vivian says, "Awesome?”  He replies, "Yeah. It is awesome. How does it do it?”  

     This line is delivered with excitement and energy completely missing from his demeanor while dealing with the human being of his case study.  He says, "Wait until I get a lab my own, if I can survive this fellowship.”  Vivian: "The part with the human beings?”  Jason; "…They want us to converse intelligently with the clinicians as if researchers were the impediment.  Clinicians are such troglodytes. Just cut the crap I say.”  

     The set design, by Santo Loquasto, is spare but effective in changing smoothly from hospital room, doctor’s office, college classroom, home living room, and back to hospital room.   Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design does a good job in support of the sets as the action moves effortlessly through the scenes.

     Lynne Meadow’s direction is masterful in bringing all of the emotional complexity of the characters to an inevitable, but nevertheless powerfully emotional conclusion. Go see this play, it will repay your effort and time many times over.

© Scott L. Bennett, Jr.  2012

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