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Review Roundup: Cynthia Nixon Stars in WIT - All the Reviews!

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Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway premiere of WIT, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson, directed by Lynne Meadow opened tonight at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street).

WIT features Pun Bandhu (Technician), Olivier Award winner Suzanne Bertish (E.M. Ashford), Michael Countryman (Harvey Kelekian/Mr. Bearing), Jessica Dickey (Technician), Chiké Johnson (Technician), Greg Keller (Jason Posner), Tony and Emmy Award winner Cynthia Nixon (Vivian Bearing), Carra Patterson (Susie Monahan), and Zachary Spicer (Technician).

Exquisitely written, affecting, and often humorous, WIT follows a brilliant and exacting poetry professor (Cynthia Nixon) as she undergoes experimental treatment for cancer. A scholar who devoted her life to academia, she must now face the irony and injustice of becoming the subject of research.

WIT had its New York premiere in 1998 receiving universal acclaim and ran Off-Broadway for over 500 performances. It was the most honored play of the season garnering the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was named Best Play by the New York Drama Critic Circle, the Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Drama League, and the Lucille Lortel Awards. What did critics think of the show's Broadway debut? Find out now!

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: This is a performance that is large and lucid and delicate at the same time, and it justifies Manhattan Theater Club’s decision to mount what is essentially a chamber piece on Broadway. As directed with a persuasive combination of showmanship and sensitivity by Lynne Meadow, this production magnifies the innate theatricality of Ms. Edson’s play without compromising the firm emotional truth at its center.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The humor in Nixon's play is grim, grim, grim and Nixon – along with director Lynne Meadow, who are both cancer survivors – have wrung out every ounce in a 100-minute, intermission-less production...In a play about ultimately reconnecting with one's humanity, Nixon is almost too hard to watch at the end. A ball of pain, and a curdling cry, is all she seems. But she ultimately achieves the state that the playwright intended: grace.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: Wit is about so much more than one woman's disease. It's about knowledge, ignorance, humanity, love; 'the play is about simplicity and complications,' schoolteacher Edson has said...Fearless doesn't even begin to describe Nixon's performance. She never leaves the stage — the same stage, incidentally, where she delivered her Tony-winning performance in Rabbit Hole in 2006. And from her 'Hi! How are you feeling today?' introduction until her rebirth-like valediction, she never fails to captivate. (Grade: A)

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: No doubt Vivian's struggle to soften her perspective while retaining her dignity will still resonate with many women. But the severity of her isolation and her steady (if rocky) path to enlightenment seem a little contrived. Other characters, too, can come across less as real human beings than as vehicles for Edson's message...It may not be Nixon's finest hour (and 40 minutes) on the New York stage, but it's a joy to have her back.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A deserving winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Margaret Edson’s Wit is a work of delicately calibrated opposites. It pits detached clinical observation on one side against raw human emotion on the other, while somehow making dry humor and wrenching pathos travel hand in hand. In Lynne Meadow’s unerringly focused staging for Manhattan Theatre Club, and above all in Cynthia Nixon’s shattering performance, that balancing act is rendered with piercing accuracy.

Matt Windman, amNY: It took more than a decade for "Wit," school teacher Margaret Edson's insightful medical drama, to make it to Broadway. But as demonstrated by Manhattan Theatre Club's elegant and intimate revival starring "Sex and the City's" Cynthia Nixon, "Wit" was well worth the wait...Nixon deserves a lot of credit for taking on such an unglamorous role. She nails the play's humor and captures Vivian's journey, which ends with her finally breaking down emotionally when she is no longer able to hide behind her "wit."

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: We have a drama laced with humor, most of it acid and utterly devoted to the power of metaphor, simile, paradox -- and wit. Not the debased, bilious language the spills from most stages these day, but words that matter, that touch the soul. Nixon gives us a woman whose mind demands attention even as her body is inexorably failing. You hear urgency in the crackling tone of her voice and see it in the undimmed sparkle in her eyes. She never stops wrestling.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Nixon brings the cool, detached demeanor familiar from her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes on “Sex and the City” as well as the grieving mother in “Rabbit Hole,” for which she won a Tony Award in 2006. She gives a commanding performance, one in which hard, sharp edges subtly soften. She’s particularly fine when Vivian interacts with family, students and healthcare pros.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY PostAn upside of not being absorbed by an emotionally overwhelming performance is that you can focus more on the play itself — and it turns out to be better than remembered. The way Edson gradually fills in the blanks of Vivian’s personality rings true, as is the scholar’s discovery of her own humanity. The parallel between Vivian and a dedicated but tone-deaf clinical fellow (Greg Keller) is also spot-on.

Linda Winer, NewsdayThe actress, last onstage here in her Tony-winning portrayal as the inconsolable mother of a dead child in the 2006 "Rabbit Hole," is virtuosic at looking as fragile as a girl, almost at the same time she withdraws into a distant and forbidding beauty. Here, with her shaved head covered by a red baseball cap, she is still most convincing in the flashbacks to the childhood moment when she learned she loved words and to the character-forming lesson from her tough mentor (played with beautiful restraint by Suzanne Bertish).

Howard Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer: Wit is, of course, scary - when is cancer not? But it's also funny - very funny - which is part of its triumph; we understand the pain and the process so much more clearly through the main character's witty vision. Nixon delivers those insights, in a play the character has constructed about her life with cancer, with a shaved head and no eyebrows - her character is on the highest dose of chemo possible. Emma Thompson shaved her scalp for Mike Nichols' tele-play of Wit on HBO (2001), as do actresses in regional theater. Nixon's normally expressive face is even more so, with a baseball cap perched on her high forehead.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Unfortunately, Ms. Nixon's acting is part of what's wrong with the production, for she plays Vivian Bearing, the austere, loveless scholar of 17th-century poetry around whose terrible plight "Wit" revolves, as though she were a precocious schoolgirl rather than a full-grown, forbiddingly chilly intellectual. Only when suffering strips away Vivian's defenses does Ms. Nixon come into her own, and by then it's too late for her to overcome the lightweight impression that she's already made.

David Cote, TimeOut NY:Having missed Kathleen Chalfant in a role that she was apparently born to play—Dr. Vivian Bearing in Margaret Edson’s powerful medical drama, Wit—I can’t weigh her performance against Cynthia Nixon’s in the Manhattan Theatre Club revival. But it is easy to imagine that Chalfant’s patrician starch and throaty low register perfectly conveyed a literature professor who can anatomize verse as easily as she verbally flays her students. Nixon has an innate warmth and coltishness that works against her, and she struggles in the first third of Lynne Meadow’s production to project sufficient froideur and hauteur. Still, it’s a testament to this remarkable play and Nixon’s skill that we ultimately believe her as the cancer-stricken teacher. Believing, we also weep at her fate.

Brendan Lemon, Financial TimesNixon has given numerous first-rate performances in contemporary fare – at this same theatre, she etched a fine portrait of motherly grief in Rabbit Hole. For Wit, her voice is not ideally tuned: neither sly enough to land all the jokes nor deep-welled enough to convey the fear of death.

David Sheward, Backstage: I'm happy to report that Nixon successfully banishes thoughts of her best-known credit, the TV series "Sex and the City," with a blazing and heartfelt portrayal, and Meadow's production reaches to the back of the theater without sacrificing the necessary immediate connection between performer and theatergoer. (The director is greatly aided by Santo Loquasto's mobile hospital-lecture-hall set and Peter Kaczorowski's unsparing lighting.) There are traces of Nixon's controlling and borderline-bitchy Miranda, from the salacious and saucy HBO series, in her Vivian. But there are also a keener intellect and a sharper—you'll excuse the expression—wit. In the first half of this unflinching intermissionless journey toward death, the actor skillfully conveys Vivian's ruthless search for knowledge by fiercely pursuing the objective of understanding the disease.


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