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This Production has now closed

Play by Margaret Edson. Directed by Leigh Silverman (recreating Derek Anson Jones directing).

Wit is a heartbreakingly funny new play starring Kathleen Chalfant in one of the year's most celebrated performances as 'Dr. Vivian Bearing,' a distinguished English professor who learns that intellectual brilliance is not as important as simple human kindness.

Cast also includes Malcolm Tierney, Ed Stoppard, Jaye Griffiths, Irene Sutcliffe, Keiron Crook, Oliver Holland, Michelle Joseph and Seana Montague.

Margaret Edson was born in Washington DC in 1961. Between earning degrees in history and literature, she worked on the cancer inpatient unit of a research hospital. Wit is her first play. Ms. Edson lives in Atlanta, Georgia and is an elementary school teacher

W;t has won numerous awards including:
Winner 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Winner 1999 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play
Winner 1999 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play (Kathleen Chalfant)
Winner Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play
Winner Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Play
Winner Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance (Kathleen Chalfant)
Winner Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play
Winner Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play (Kathleen Chalfant)
Winner Obie Award for Distinguished Performance (Kathleen Chalfant)

VAUDEVILLE Theatre, Previewed 27 March, Opened 3 April 2000, Closed 13 May 2000
Extracts from the reviews:

"...Edson sometimes strains the parallels between two varieties of knotty research, Eng Lit and medical. But the British premiere of Wit at the Vaudeville, with the gawkily brilliant Kathleen Chalfant again in the lead, convinces me that the play deserves to repeat the huge success it has had in America. It is moving, funny and wise about the limitations of the intellect and the value of the heart. And unlike so many American plays, it projects a belief in human simplicity without succumbing to sentimentality... Chalfant commands the stage, sometimes trailing a drip, sometimes making side-trips into Vivian's past. There is even a glimpse of a university lecture impressively packed with confidence and intellectual joy. But the chemotherapy, the vomiting, the exhaustion and finally the pain take their toll. Irony and detachment disappear, as does aggressive resentment at such droll humiliations as being stuck in a harness and earnestly groped by a former student. There is, it appears, something softer and more vulnerable inside the scholarly crustacean. I must not spoil the ending, which is predictable and not at all predictable. Let us just say that Chalfant's Vivian no longer finds it mawkish when Jaye Griffiths's nurse calls her "sweetheart" and seems positively grateful when Irene Sutcliffe as her old professor stops quoting Donne and reads her a children's story called The Runaway Bunny. I don't often blink back tears at plays these days. Last night, I did." -- The Times

"...Vivian Baring is the protagonist of Wit, which arrives in the West End from off-Broadway, where it is still running. Affecting, funny, clever, this is its author Margaret Edson's first play; and a beautifully accomplished piece of work it is. Wit (in a broad sense of the term) is what Donne applies to his sacred sonnets to the large issues of life, death and God; and wit is what Vivian Baring applies to her intense medical predicament... Vivian Baring takes punctuation as a very serious ingredient of literary criticism: which is why the publicity for the play prints its title as W;t... Wit has its small patches of sentimentality and its patches of heart-wringing pathos, but part of its canny brilliance is that it has already taken the issues of sentimentality and pathos under its wing. From the first minute, you know how this play is going to end - but at no moment do you know where it is going to go next. And, actually, the ending does come as a surprise. The role of Vivian Baring is played here, as it was originally off-Broadway, by Kathleen Chalfant: a brave and finely judges performance, the hair-loss fully shown, the brisk tough-mindedness only gradually yeilding to vulnerability... We often hear these days of the vast importance of British theatre to Broadway; but the past few months have brought us plentiful counter-evidence of the vitality of New York theatre. Wit has won New York awards for both Edson its author and Chalfant its actress and the awards are very evidently well deserved. The advent of Wit enlarges the West End" -- The Financial Times

"...Wit evokes unpleasant memories of other hospital dramas such as Whose Life Is It Anyway? or, whose still, The Normal Heart. Yet Margaret Edson's off-Broadway play is more literate than most. The terminal patient in this being a brilliant 50-year-old scholar of John Dunne's Holy Sonnets. Brilliantly played by Kathleen Chalfant; she's spiky, she is alone and she's got stage four metastatic ovarian cancer. It's curtains. Worse, she's mere research fodder at the hands of unfeeling doctors striving officiously to keep her alive with massive levels of chemo. Save for Ms Chalfant's final, naked transformation into light after death, the play absorbs and communicates little of the spiritual quality of the poetry it hijacks from John Donne and shoves on an overhead projector. If you like bathing in the sorrows of prolonged illness, then you'll love this. For my taste, there's a few milligrammes of glucose too many in the drip." -- The Express

"...Wit is blessed with intellectual rigour and a compassion that never curdles into glib sentimentality. By the end, the audience's emotion feels as if it has been earned. The writing isn't faultless: at time the play's imagery seems excessively contrived and Edson ducks out of the most profound implications of her subject. This is, however, a work of serious merit. The woman with a tumour the size of a grapefruit is Vivian Bearing, PhD, a ferociously brainy, 50-year-old Eng lit professor who specialises in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, those dense, difficult, supremely elegant meditations on mortality and salvation... Throughout, Bearing comments on her experiences directly to the audience, an approach that might be tiresome were it not for the dry wit of the character, superbly played by the shaven-headed Kathleen Chalfant with a sharp sense of irony, ruthless honesty and a bracing absence of self-pity... Wit is a play that defines the limitations of intelligence, our need, in the final analysis, to abandon ratiocination and merely accept what we cannot mend. Leigh Silverman's production is fluent and there is fine support from Ed Stoppard as a gauche doctor more interested in his research than in his patients, and from Jaye Griffiths, whose luminous performance as a nurse seems to embody the principle of practical compassion. It is a mark of the play's success that it can even accommodate a potentially cringe-making children's fable about a bunny rabbit towards the end, while the final moments are as beautiful, and transcendent, as anything on the London stage." -- The Daily Telegraph

Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information on 'Albemarle of London's West End Theatre Guide', no responsibility can be accepted for any errors or omissions - always confirm 'curtain up' times when you book your tickets. 

© Copyright Albemarle of London 1998.