Wit Broadway Nixon

January 24, 2012 by staff 

Wit Broadway Nixon, “Sex and the City” star and Barnard ’88 alum Cynthia Nixon takes on the evocative, moving role of a poetry professor diagnosed with cancer. Sharp Wit / Cynthia Nixon, BC ’88 and “Sex and the City” star, takes on a new role as a professor facing cancer in “Wit.” Seldom does a play move an audience to tears of both sadness and laughter.

Such is the power of Lynne Meadow’s Broadway production of “Wit,” the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Margaret Edson, now in previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Cynthia Nixon, BC ’88, stars as Ph.D. Vivian Bearing, a renowned poetry professor battling terminal cancer.

Vivian’s success has come at a price-she has alienated her peers, terrified her students, and avoided all forms of attachment. Vivian is alone in the world, save for her scholarly accolades and her beloved John Donne poetry.

Donne figures into the play heavily-as Nixon recites his “Death be Not Proud,” her character relates his work to her condition, drawing parallels between herself and the narrator of the poem.
Her hospital gown ghostlike in the spotlight, Vivian speaks directly to the audience in the first scene with a clipped arrogance, saying, “Donne makes Shakespeare sound like a Hallmark card.”

But when a former student reenters her life, Vivian yearns for his companionship. That student is her doctor, Jason Posner, who guilelessly informs her that he had taken her class in college to appear well-rounded for medical school admissions.

Played with nuance by Greg Keller, Jason is Vivian as a 20-something: ambitious, socially unaware, and verging on ruthless. Lamenting from her hospital bed, Vivian begs for companionship that her former student cannot give her, forcing her to call into question the value of her life’s work.

In a brilliant turn that is neither preachy nor saccharine, Vivian realizes that it is her kind, less educated nurse who has life figured out.
“I thought being extremely smart would take care of it,” she whimpers from her hospital bed.

When Vivian goes, her death is not proud, but a jumbled, painful affair. Even with her keen mind and myriad awards and recognition, cancer robs Vivian of her dignity.

On Broadway for the first time after enjoying critical success off-Broadway in 1999, Meadow’s production of “Wit” eschews the trappings of lavish Broadway productions and showcases well-cast actors.

Nixon, having lost the red hair but not the intellectual dexterity that made her famous as lawyer Miranda Hobbes on HBO series “Sex and the City,” is powerful and heartbreaking as the tragic professor.

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