Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wit ***

(Click on the title to read the full review.)

Margaret Edson's 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a middle-aged John Donne scholar undergoing a grueling clinical trial for stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer, has been revived by Manhattan Theatre Club in a production starring Cynthia Nixon. The lead character's name -- Dr. Vivian Bearing -- is fitting: Vivian indeed has much to bear during her excruciating treatment. Kathleen Chalfant's searing performance in the original New York production set the bar very high. Nixon's Vivian does not reach that stratospheric level, but is nonetheless quite compelling. (Emma Thompson's portrayal in the television movie was also quite different from Chalfant's, but still admirable. I did not see Judith Light, who followed Chalfant in New York, but her reviews were quite good.) Greg Keller is fine as research fellow Dr. Jason Posner, a former student of Vivian's, who shares with her an analytical approach to life that often appears to lack humanity. Michael Countryman makes less of an impression as Dr. Harvey Kelekian, the lead physician, than he does as Vivian's father in a short flashback. Suzanne Bertish is fine as Vivian's mentor, Dr. E.M. Ashford, during a touching, probably imaginary, visit to the dying Vivian. Carra Patterson brings a natural warmth to the role of nurse Susie Monahan. Santo Loquasto's hospital set is unobtrusively authentic and Peter Kaczorowski's lighting is excellent. I thought Lynne Meadow's direction let the pacing lag occasionally. The play, at just short of two hours without intermission, seemed longer than I remember it. Although the play has many flashes of humor, there is no getting around the fact that is very painful to watch. Even though I had seen the play as well as the movie before, it was just as upsetting to see Wit a third time. Whether you should see it depends on your tolerance for disturbing material.

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