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by Spencer Howard

I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of Manhattan Theater Club‘s newest Broadway play, Wit. While Margaret Edson‘s dramedy is not new (it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999), this is it’s first taste of Broadway.

Starring Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, Wit is the gripping, hilarious and disturbing story of a cold, didactic scholar battling stage-4 ovarian cancer. While a play centered around the topics of cancer, chemotherapy and the loss of ones faculties doesn’t sound like anything to laugh at, Edison’s play, the only one she has penned, consistently leaves the audience doing something they don’t typically allow themselves to do; laugh while watching someone die.

Cynthia Nixon is a tour-de-force on stage. Not only does she have to basically recite one of the wordiest 2 hour monologues I’ve ever heard, but she never leaves the stage! Not even to take a sip of water. As Ms. Nixon’s character, Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., walks or is wheeled around stage, there is an unmistakable connection between her eyes and the audience. Like a professor giving her favorite lecture, she commands the audience as if we are students in her class and she demands nothing but our utmost attention. Watching Ms. Nixon convey Vivian Bearing’s deterioration is a subtle, powerful, master class in taking a character from A to Z without drawing attention to it.

Santo Loquasto‘s set fills out the vibe of being in a hospital with a rotating stark white wall and an actual hospital bed. While most of the ensemble does a wonderful job helping to tell Vivian Bearing’s story, a few standouts are Carra Patterson as Vivian’s nurse Susie and Suzanne Bertish as Vivian’s former teacher E.M. Ashford.