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Wit by Margaret Edson
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A play about a cancer victim and her experiences with treatment as she moves through the medical system. Although it appears to be an indictment of the medical system, and of runaway intellectualism in general, for many of us it can be a celebration of what is possible. While the doctors are cold and unfeeling, they are still doing their best to fight death; there is a kind hearted nurse who assumes the role of caretaker. It could lead us to ask the question about which is more important: a doctor that holds our hand and does nothing to fix us or to teach others the skills; or a doctor that is quite competent, even if a bit cold. I don't think the play answers this question, though the preference of the author comes through. Instead, I think there is a lot of room to disagree with the author, and make our own decisions. She leaves enough up in the air to not shove a set answer down your throat. In fact, one of the kindest acts in the entire show was performed by a woman who was herself an intellectual, hard headed and non-compromising. This shows that there is room for both intellectualism and emotion. A good philosophical exploration of a serious question. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Nov 24, 2013 |
A re-read while queuing for Fringe shows. Still one of the greatest plays of the past 50 years. ( )
  Ceilidhann | Sep 20, 2013 |
Margaret Edson’s Wit is an earnest look at how terminal illness affects one’s perspective. Dr. Vivian Bearing, a respected professor and scholar of the works of John Donne, is diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and has to undergo intense chemotherapy if there is to be any recovery. Her doctor is of course very clinical in his treatment of her, and his protégé is a former student (making for very awkward encounters). During the course of her treatment, Bearing gets sicker and more introspective. The play focuses on Bearing’s assessment of her life and learning as she deals with her imminent death.

Edson’s integration of Donne’s metaphysical poetics is interesting as it transforms the audience from simple spectators to students in Bearing’s classroom. We get a lesson in literature as she receives a lesson in life. Bearing’s life has been in the pursuit of learning, truth, and wisdom, but not companionship, so the only people left to guide her through the treatment are the staff of the hospital. At the risk of engaging in too much wordplay, Bearing’s life has too much bearing and not enough distraction. The vignettes we get of her past show that she was offered the choice to expand her horizons beyond literature but stuck with her studies. In the end, the good professor lets a bit of the outside world in as the cancer takes over.

Edson’s writing is interesting in that it breaks a lot of supposed rules about play-writing. Bearing is constantly breaking the fourth wall, there is overlapping dialogue, and there are no real scene or act breaks. That being said, it is a engaging piece of modern literature and a heck of a debut play. Wit still remains Edson’s only written work and she seems content in keeping it that way. I don’t have a lot of other plays sitting around the house to compare it to, but I liked it. It probably works a bit better on stage, but it wasn’t heavy-handed or hokey. All in all, a decent read. ( )
  NielsenGW | Aug 8, 2013 |
Holy Cr@p.This is the first thing she ever wrote. Yikes. In fact, it's the only thing she's ever written except for one other play a few years ago that hasn't ever been staged.She says in an interview with Jim Lehrer I found on the PBS website that she just really wanted to write a play. And this is what came out. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Oct 3, 2011 |
The play centers on Vivian Bearing’s last days in the hospital as she dies of ovarian cancer, with flashbacks to key moments in her life and career. Dr. Bearing is a professor of seventeenth century poetry, specifically of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, and throughout the play, Bearing’s fears echo John Donne’s lines. Her impersonal medical care likewise parallels her own insensitive method of teaching students.

Wit by Margaret Edson is a quick read (I think I read it in about an hour over the course of a day), but is poignant because of its emotional subject matter. Despite its brevity, it is packed full of various implications. I’m sure I miss most of the subtle meanings when I read it, so I enjoy rereading it. I get more out of it each time.

More detailed review on my blog
  rebeccareid | Jul 1, 2011 |
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Hi. How are you feeling today? Great. That's just great.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0571198775, Paperback)

Wit is that rare beast: art that engages both the heart and the mind. "It is not my intention to give away the plot," Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., announces near the beginning of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "but I think I die at the end. They've given me less than two hours." For two hours, this famed Donne scholar takes center stage, interrupting her doctors, nurses, and students to explicate her own story, its metaphors and conceits. Recently diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, she is being treated with an experimental drug cocktail administered in "eight cycles. Eight neat little strophes." The chemo makes her feel worse than she ever thought possible; in fact, the treatment is making her sick, not the disease--an irony she says she'd appreciate in a Donne sonnet, if not so much in life.

Throughout, Vivian finds, the doctors study and discuss her body like a text: "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." As her time draws to a close, a sea change begins to work in the way Vivian thinks about life, death, and indeed, Donne. His complex, tightly knotted poems have always been a puzzle for her formidable intellect, a chance to display "verbal swordplay" and wit. Her sickness presents an entirely different challenge. A powerful, prickly personality, capable of dry asides even during a bout of gut-wrenching nausea ("You may remark that my vocabulary has taken a turn for the Anglo-Saxon"), Vivian develops a new appreciation for the simple, the maudlin, the kind. Not to give away the plot, but the final moments in Margaret Edson's debut are as wrenching--as human--as anything in recent drama. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:09 -0400)

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"In this play, Margaret Edson has created a work that is as intellectually challenging as it is emotionally immediate. At the start of Wit, Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., a renowned professor of English who has spent years studying and teaching the brilliantly difficult Holy Sonnets of the metaphysical poet John Donne, has been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. Her approach to her illness is not unlike her approach to the study of Donne: aggressively probing and intensely rational. But during the course of her illness - and her stint as a prize patient in an experimental chemotherapy program at a major teaching hospital - Vivian comes to reassess her life and her work with a profundity and humor that are transformative both for her and for the audience."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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