- Wit (play)
name = Wit
image_size = 150px
caption = 1999
Faber and Faberedition
characters = Vivian Bearing
Dr Bearing's Students
premiere = 1995
South Coast Repertory Costa Mesa, California
orig_lang = English
iobdb_id = 953
"Wit" is a play by the American and playwright
Margaret Edson, her first play. Edson used her work experience in a hospital as part of the inspiration for her play.cite news | author=Peter Marks | title=Science and Poetry Face Death in a Hospital Room | url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940CE6DB1630F93BA2575AC0A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all | work=The New York Times | date=18 September 1998 | accessdate=2008-03-29] [cite news | author=Kevin Sack | title=At Lunch With Margaret Edson; Colors, Numbers, Letters and John Donne | url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F01E1DE113EF933A25752C1A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all | work=The New York Times | date=10 November 1998 | accessdate=2008-03-29] "Wit" received its world premiere at South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California, in 1995. [cite news | author=Vincent Canby | title=Battered and Broken, So That She May Rise | url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DEEDE143AF93BA25753C1A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all | work=The New York Times | date=18 October 1998 | accessdate=2008-03-29] Long Wharf Theaterin New Haven, Connecticutsubsequently staged the play in November 1997, with Kathleen Chalfantin the lead role. [cite news|author=Alvin Klein|title=Dauntless Spirit, Life of the Mind|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A05E0DF1638F935A25752C1A961958260|work=The New York Times|date=16 November 1997|accessdate=2008-03-29] [cite news|author=Peter Marks|title=For a Scholar Near Death, A Dose of Deconstruction|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=980CE3DB123AF93BA15752C1A961958260|work=The New York Times|date=28 November 1997|accessdate=2008-03-29] The play received its first New York City production in September 1998, at the MCC Theater, with Chalfant reprising her lead performance as Vivian Bearing. An excerpt from the play was published in the "New York Times" in September 1998. [cite news|author=Margaret Edson|title=Think Tank: About Life, Death and the Pause That Separates Them (excerpt from "Wit")|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0DE3D61439F935A1575AC0A96E958260|work=The New York Times|date=26 September 1998|accessdate=2008-03-29] Chalfant received strong praise for her performance. She also incorporated her own life experience into her work on the play, including the final illness and death of her brother Alan Palmer from cancer. [cite news|author=Robin Pogrebin|title=A Brother's Death Helps Bring a Performance to Life|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C03E5DA173DF933A15753C1A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all|work=The New York Times|date=20 October 1998|accessdate=2008-03-29] The play moved to the Union Square Theater in December 1998, after its successful initial run in New York City. [cite news|author=Alvin Klein|title=Offstage Drama Of "Wit" Goes On|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C01E1D9133DF933A15751C1A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all|work=The New York Times|date=20 December 1998|accessdate=2008-03-29]
"Wit" won the 1999
Pulitzer Prize for Drama. [cite news|author=Alex Kuczynski|title=Teacher Turned Playwright Is Among the Winners of 22 Pulitzer Prizes|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00E3DC1F38F930A25757C0A96F958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all|work=The New York Times|date=13 April 1999|accessdate=2008-03-29] The play also received the "Best New Play" award for 1999 from the New York Drama Critics' Circle. [cite news|title=Critics Name "Wit" as Best New Play|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9907E1DB153CF936A35756C0A96F958260|work=The New York Times|date=5 May 1999|accessdate=2008-03-29] Because the play did not receive a production at a Broadway theatre, "Wit" was not eligible for the Tony Awards. [cite news|author=Alvin Klein|title=Now "Wit" Belongs To the World|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9404E3DF143BF93BA25757C0A96F958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all|work=The New York Times|date=18 April 1999|accessdate=2008-03-29] Chalfant received an award from the "Village Voice" Obies for her performance. In 2001, the play was adapted into a cable television film with Emma Thompsonas Vivian Bearing.
Elizabeth Klaver has discussed in detail the philosophical issues of "mind vs body" in the context of "Wit". [cite journal|url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0010-7484(200424)45%3A4%3C659%3AAMPTCO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-V|last=Klaver|first=Elizabeth|title=A Mind-Body-Flesh Problem: The Case of Margaret Edson's "Wit"|journal=Contemporary Literature|volume=45|issue=4|pages=659–683|date=Winter 2004|accessdate=2008-04-02|month=Dec|year=2004]
"Note": On the cover of the published book of the play, the use of a semicolon in place of the letter i gives "W;t" as one representation of the play's title. In the context of the play, the semicolon also refers to the recurring theme of the use of a semicolon versus a comma in one Donne sonnet. Both "Wit" and "W;t" have been used in various articles on the play for the title. For convenience, the title of this article here is given as the conventional spelling of "Wit", without the use of punctuation in the middle of the word.
* Vivian Bearing, PhD – 50 years old, a professor of seventeenth-century poetry at the university, diagnosed with stage IV, metastatic
* Harvey Kelekian, MD – 50 years old, chief of medical oncology at the University Hospital
* Jason Posner, MD – 28 years old, a clinical fellow at the Medical Oncology Branch, former student in Vivian's class
* Susie Monahan, RN, BSN - 28 years old, Vivian's primary nurse in the cancer in-patient unit
* E.M. Ashford, DPhil – 80 years old, professor emerita of English literature, Vivian's former
* Mr Bearing, Vivian's father
* Laboratory technicians
* Students of Dr Bearing's class
"Wit" is performed as a single continuous act, without intermission.
The play is structured as the last hours of Dr Vivian Bearing, a
university professorof English, who is dying of ovarian cancer. She recalls the initial diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer from her oncologist, Dr Harvey Kelekian. Dr Kelekian then proposes an experimental chemotherapeutic treatment regimen consisting of eight rounds at full dosage. Vivian agrees to the treatment.
Over the course of the play, Bearing assesses her own life through the intricacies of the
English language, especially the use of witand the metaphysical poetryof John Donne. Throughout the play, Vivian recites John Donne's whilst reflecting upon her condition. In addition to her understanding of poetry, she has a reputation for her difficult classes and demanding manner. Vivian has spent most of her life preferring scholarship to humanity. She is unmarried and without children, her parents are deceased, and she has no third-party person to contact.
Vivian recalls undergoing tests by various medical technicians and being the subject of
grand rounds. She remembers the first time that she acquired a love of books from her father, Mr Bearing. She also flashes back to her experiences as a student of Dr EM Ashford, an expert on John Donne.
Bearing later finds herself under the care of Dr Jason Posner, a young doctor who took her Donne class at university. At the hospital, Vivian recognises that doctors are more interested in her for their research, and recognises a parallel to her approach in study and teaching. She gradually realises that she would much prefer kindness and compassion to intellect. Susie Monahan, a nurse at the medical centre, offers Vivian comfort, and mentions to her the option of exercising among medical emergency options either code blue or "
do not resuscitate" (DNR), in case of a severe decline in her condition. Vivian decides to mark the DNR option.
Eventually, Vivian reaches the end stage in extreme pain. Dr Ashford, in town for her great-grandson's birthday, visits the hospital after learning of Vivian's cancer. She comforts Vivian and offers to read to her the Donne sonnet, but Vivian refuses. Instead, Dr Ashford reads from
Margaret Wise Brown's " The Runaway Bunny", which she had bought for her great-grandson. Dr Ashford turns out to be the only visitor that Vivian receives. Vivian then flatlines. Dr Posner suddenly discovers this, tries to resuscitate Vivian, and calls in a medical team to administer CPR to her. Nurse Monahan tries to stop him and to point out the DNR instruction. Dr Posner eventually realises the DNR directive, and calls for the CPR team to stop, at which the team remarks on Dr Posner's mistake in not noticing the order. The play ends as Vivian, unclothed after her death, walks from her hospital bed "toward a little light".
* [http://www.talkinbroadway.com/ob/5_18_99.html Wendy Guida, "The Village Voice Obies" (18 May 1999). TalkinBroadway.org web page, "Off Broadway" article]
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