Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Wit by Margaret Edson

Cynthia Nixon in the current broadway run of Wit (via)
Reviewed by Christina

Published: 1993

It's about: Wit (or W;t) is a pulitzer-winning play that centers around Vivian Bearing, a professor of seventeenth-century poetry who is being aggressively treated for stage-four ovarian cancer.

I thought: Reading a play is like smelling a cake.

Wit is well-written, nicely paced, and extremely smart, with a sprinkling of wry humor. There's a cool metafictional/postmodern element with Vivian speaking many of her lines directly to the audience, calling for "action," referring to her own last lines and closing scene. The characters' voices ring true. But when I finished reading it, I wasn't satisfied. The basic story- crotchety professor on her deathbed learns the importance of human kindness- seemed shallow, moralistic, and obvious. The whole thing reminded me a bit of A Christmas Carol. I just didn't love it, and I didn't get why it is so highly regarded.

But then, in lieu of seeing it on stage, I watched the film adaptation. And I pretty much came unglued. Wit moved me when everything came together: the relationships between the characters made sense, Vivian became real and her story became profound. All the themes that I had overlooked or brushed aside in my reading suddenly struck me as undeniable truths.

Verdict: Well... Hm. I wouldn't really call this a must-read in itself. But if you have the opportunity to see it, DO. I guess it's an in-between.

Reading Recommendations: It's only 80 pages long, and it's definitely worth reading in a single sitting. And if you're going to bother reading it, you REALLY need to see the play or the movie afterward to get the full effect.

Warnings: one or two swears

Favorite excerpts:
"Grand Rounds is not Grand Opera. But compared to lying here, it is positively dramatic.
Full of subservience, hierarchy, gratuitous displays, sublimated rivalries- I feel right at home. It is just like a graduate seminar.
With one important difference: in Grand Rounds, they read me like a book. Once I did the teaching, now I am taught.
This is much easier. I just hold still and look cancerous. It requires less acting every time."

What I'm reading next: The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks