by Margaret Edson
January 4 - 26, 2002
Directed by Linda Parrish
In her extraordinary first
play, Margaret Edson has created a work that is as intellectually challenging as
it is emotionally immediate.
Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., a
renowned professor of English Literature who has spent years studying and teaching the
brilliant and difficult metaphysical sonnets of John Donne, has been diagnosed
with terminal ovarian cancer.
Her approach to the study of
Donne is aggressively probing and rational. But during the course of her illness
- and her stint in an experimental chemotherapy program -
the fearsome teacher becomes herself a subject to be taught to medical
students. The irony is that her doctors are too much like her - more interested in research than in people. Vivian's ongoing treatment gives her the opportunity to take stock of her life, and ultimately the story becomes her spiritual journey.
All along the way, various producers called it a tough sell. Cancer, an English literature professor and
John Donne poetry? Yet all over the country, audiences and critics alike have raved about the play's tough honesty and have been surprised by the humor that the playwright sprinkles throughout.
The play has become the most lauded play of the last decade, if not the entire
20th century. By the time playwright Margaret Edson picked up Newsday's 1999 Oppenheimer Award for best new American playwright, she had already taken home the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for drama and best play awards from the N.Y. Drama Critics Circle, the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League, the Dramatists Guild, the L.A. Drama Critics and the Lucille Lortel (Off-Broadway's equivalent of the Tony Award).
At the time of the play's New York debut, Ms. Edson was a kindergarten teacher in Atlanta and her theatrical experience was limited to high school acting.
WIT grew out of her experiences working as a physical therapy aid and a unit clerk in a teaching hospital in Washington D.C. in 1985. As she watched patients and medical personnel, she became intrigued by the notion of writing about someone who moves from a position of power to one of dependency. After a first reading in her mother's home in 1991, the play was rejected by numerous theatres around the country before California's West Coast Repertory Theater produced it to high acclaim in 1995. The Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut produced it in 1997 before it opened in New York at the MCC Theater the following year.
Guide - an excellent source of background information on the history of
the play, the playwright, ovarian cancer, and the poetry of John Donne.
Audience Guide © August 21, 2000, Madison Repertory Theatre