Lesbian playwright Margaret Edson won the Pulitzer Prize for Wit. Eighteen years later, this now classic drama laced with bitter wit shows it has longevity in a magnetic production directed by Ben McGovern for Artistry at Bloomington Center for the Arts. Edson creates something miraculous from the standpoint of engaging an audience while respecting that its intelligence and emotional capacities are higher and deeper than the level countless other playwrights feel/think they are compelled to operate on.
Wit’s protagonist, Vivian, is a middle-aged English professor dealing with very advanced stages of ovarian cancer. Beloved Twin Cities actress, Sally Wingert, has shaved her head in order to root her being in the disease the play examines and she delivers a tour de force performance that is gripping, shocking, and hilarious.
Vivian’s specific study of John Donne has infused how she relates to the world. Having taught his poetry in depth and, frankly, in defiance of an anti-intellectual society that sees poetry as frivolous or if written by a man, as politically incorrect for a woman to research, she grasps her field of study with religious devotion. Vivian’s very soul is connected at her spiritual core with Donne’s vision.
The genius of the drama and the demand of the role is that the deterioration aspect of what is considered “incurable” is so aggressively penetrated. The protagonist’s physical diminishing interplays with the poet’s intricate intimations of the nature of death and of life on the precipice of death. Wingert fathoms this to transcendent effect and there are exquisite poetry passages that pepper the piece. Wingert conveys emotions from the highly cerebral to the primal. This is especially poignant in the relationship with her older professor mentor played beautifully by Barbara Berlovitz. Protégé learns about the wages of perfectionism as she faces death. Mentor has learned that while living into an older age in comparatively fine health.
And truly fine is what the entire supporting cast is as they embody the sharp professional focus of a good hospital staff. Cristina Castro and Corey DiNardo are a notable contrast as a nurse filled with empathy, skeptical of the medical realm’s M.O. and a clinic fellow who is perhaps too clinical in dealing with the human condition.
Through May 28
Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 W Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington