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AT: Wit A: Margaret Edson Pf: 1995, Costa Mesa, California Pb: 1993 G: Drama without act or scene divisions S: US hospital, 1990s C: 4 m, 2 f, extrasIn dialogue scenes, monologues, and flashbacks, we follow the experiences of Vivian Bearing, a 50-year-old professor of 17th-century poetry, from the diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer to her death about a year later. Professor Kelekian recommends the full force of chemotherapy for eight months, so that Vivian can make a ‘significant contribution to research’. As her hair drops out, she becomes nauseous, and her immune system is eradicated, it becomes clear that her ‘treatment imperils [her] health’. The endless waiting is almost unbearable: ‘If I were writing this scene, it would last a full 15 minutes. I would lie here, and you would sit there.’ Her main consolation is the poetry of John Donne, and she recalls in flashback how her tutor Evelyn Ashford pointed out that, contrary to the punctuation in most editions, Donne's famous line contains a comma, not a semicolon: ‘And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die,’ i.e. only a breath separates this life from the life beyond. This is not merely 17th-century ‘wit’ but ‘truth’. Suffering the humiliation of pelvic examinations and being prodded by medical students, Vivian confronts the uncaring attitude of Jason Posner, a young researcher, as the cancer takes hold. Now aware that she was herself not kind enough, she finds human warmth in a nurse, and asks not to be resuscitated when her heart stops. The final indignity occurs when her instructions are initially ignored and she is handled like a lump of meat in Jason's panicky attempt to keep his research object alive.

AT: Wit A: Margaret Edson Pf: 1995, Costa Mesa, California Pb: 1993 G: Drama without act or scene divisions S: US hospital, 1990s C: 4 m, 2 f, extras

Edson studied Literature before working in the research unit of a cancer hospital, and this Pulitzer Prizewinning play brilliantly combines and confronts these two areas of human enquiry. The illness is the main character of the play, and Vivian, Kelekian, Jason, the nurse, and Evelyn Ashford, all respond to it differently, with the women significantly showing more human warmth, even if, in Vivian's case, somewhat belatedly: ‘I have been found out.’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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