by Margaret Edson
Great Canadian Theatre Company
Ottawa, February 2003
[reviewed in an email to the family by Kate Hunt]
Dad, excellent call. I don't think I've been more riveted by a play in years. Hard as hell to watch, but an astounding play. Apparently this is the one and only play this woman's ever written, and it won zillions of prizes including a Pulitzer?
For anyone else who maybe doesn't know about this thing, I went to see Wit last night and I'm sort of still in shellshock. It's about a woman, Vivian Varing, who is a Ph.D. in 17th century English Literature, specializing in Donne's Holy Sonnets, and who is also, at the opening of the play, dying of ovarian cancer. You know, plays about people dying of cancer can go either way, and usually don't go where they could. This one works. It also helps that I am an English major, and so were most of the audience as far as I could tell. The play keeps bringing back a couple of themes, one of which is Donne and his weird ambivalent poems about life and death and God. But it also follows her (announcing in one of the opening scenes that she is "a Force") as she loses all of her sharpness and certainty and finally is forced to accept kindness. And it has some amazing monologues on literature and style and wit. . . But it's really hard stuff to watch. The actress who plays Varing [Patricia Collins] is astounding; her deadpan dry wit is really funny, and toward the end she plays crippling pain so full-on and unrelenting that you can almost feel it yourself. Her whole demeanor just slowly dissolves as the play goes on. She's also wearing only a hospital nightgown and knitted hat (over a completely shaved head, and I wasn't close enough to see if she had shaved her eyebrows as well) through the whole thing. And she stays on the stage for an hour and 45 minutes without ever walking off.
Never seen the GCTC audience leap to their feet as fast as they did when she walked out for a bow. All at once. The house was sold out, and I guess it had been -- they held the play over for a week, which is why I went this weekend instead of last weekend. Better seats last night.
Anyway. The whole thing is just stuck in my head. And I was really glad Carolyn didn't have to work last night so she could come with me. . . anyway, wherever you heard about this one, thanks!
I'll try to get a longer review up on the website. I think I have a plan for getting some website work done...
-- K8 (slowly managing to get back to this world)