Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wit by Margaret Edson, City Theatre, March 18 - April 8

Wit Margaret Edson City Theatre Austin

It helps to have someone holding your hand when you look over the edge of the precipice. Even if you've always lived alone, felt self sufficient and devoted yourself to the life of the mind.

Margaret Edson's Wit is the portrait of literature professor Vivian Bearing, a devotee of 17th century English literature renowned for her publications on the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. At the age of 50 this scholar has been discovered to be the victim of Stage IV ovarian cancer. Our time with her is spent in the cancer ward, except for brief flashbacks to happy moments - as a child, learning to read; as a graduate student discovering the woman professor who became her mentor; standing authoritatively in front of a class of undergraduates, challenging them to grapple with the conceits of Donne's poetry.

Bearing's thoughts spin as she confronts the unimaginative protocol realities of medicine. She works to remain objective and in intellectual control, occasionally sharing with us a fugue state, sometimes even over the unnerving revelations being delivered by her physicians.

This piece demands a virtuoso performance every night, by a virtuoso performer, and Judith Laird is exactly that. Wit is essentially a monologue with regular lapses into conventional stage representation. The frail, earnest protagonist speaks directly to us as audience, acknowledges our presence and even comments in passing, "I have only two hours here before I die." That ironic confiding in the spectators has a touch of the metaphysical to it, a shadowed reflection of Donne's perspective in the Holy Sonnets written late in his life.

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