Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Wit
Playhouse on Park
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Anything Goes


Elizabeth Lande
Photo by Rich Wagner
Wit, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Margaret Edson, is currently receiving an incisive and deeply moving production at Playhouse on Park. Powerfully directed by Stevie Zimmerman and featuring a transcendent lead performance by Elizabeth Lande, this show proves to be awe inspiring. This staging can stand up confidently to the memory of the original Off-Broadway production with Kathleen Chalfant. This is due to both the strength of the play itself and the exemplary work by everyone involved with this production. Be warned: the play is far from being a lark (though there is a great deal of humor in it) and can be tough-going at times, but it is truly exceptional theatre and mostly definitely recommended.

Since the leading role of Dr. Vivian Bearing is so all encompassing, any production will rise or fall on the excellence of the actress cast in this role. Playhouse on Park is enormously fortunate to have Elizabeth Lande taking on this marathon part. A good deal of Wit involves this character speaking directly to the audience, and Lande wins us over from her very first entrance, and seems to get better and better as the play progresses. The plot is essentially the character of Vivian facing the fact that she has been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and the consequences and treatment of her illness.

Dr. Vivian Bearing is an esteemed and respected college professor of poetry and the crux of the play is how her intelligence and wit sustains her through the most horrific events that she must endure because of her illness. No matter how tough the going is, Wit also contains humor, and this keeps things from ever becoming maudlin or depressing.

Director Stevie Zimmerman does a terrific job with her actors and her design team. In addition to the superlative Elizabeth Lande, there are also strong performances by David Gautschy as Vivian's doctor and Waltrudis Buck as Vivian's fellow professor and friend. As Dr. Jason Posner, Tim Hackney does excellent work in a slightly unsympathetic role, but my favorite character is probably Nurse Susie. Chuja Seo shines in this touching part and the warmth and feeling that she brings to the show is inspiring.

Wit is staged on a stark, antiseptic set, appropriate for the many hospital scenes in the play (the apt scenic designer is Emily Nichols). Lighting designer Marcus Abbott works in perfect accordance with the set designer and they have created a bleak world that Vivian is forced to occupy. The costumes by Kate Bunce include, most pointedly, just a hospital gown and baseball cap for the leading character.

This is how it should be. Wit takes the audience on a difficult journey into the real horrors of cancer, but, throughout, there is the character of Vivian and her intelligence and wit as she tries to rise above her fate. The Playhouse on Park production is filled with achingly moving moments and it is highly recommended that you bring tissues when coming to see this show. The power of the writing is matched by the monumental work of Elizabeth Lande, who is riveting throughout, and it is the beauty of her brave performance that ultimately makes Playhouse on Park's staging of Wit essential viewing.

Wit continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through May 8, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.