Margaret Edson’s play, Wit is an incredibly moving and yet funny play. In the opening scene, we are introduced to Dr. Vivian Bearing. She is an English professor specializing in the works of John Donne, and she is diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. Vivian tells the audience, “There is no stage five” (Edson 12). Vivian knows from the first moments of the play that she is going to die. In fact, she tells the audience as much within the first few pages: “It is not my intention to give away the plot; but I think I die at the end” (Edson 6). I think it is the intimacy with the audience that allows the play to be both moving and funny. Vivian speaks to the audience throughout the play, which tells the story of her diagnosis, treatment, and ultimate death. We learn that she was dedicated to her work, to the point of rejecting personal relationships. While Vivian is extremely intelligent, and knows it, she is ultimately without power in the face of cancer. Near the end of the play, once she has become very sick, Vivian finally has a visitor. Her former English professor comes to see Vivian and reads her a children’s story, rather than John Donne. I think the choice of The Runaway Bunny as opposed to a poem by John Donne shows how much Vivian has changed as a result of her experience with cancer.
The form of drama allows the audience to become immediately connected, and invested, in the character of Vivian. Within a couple of hours (and with the help of flashbacks), the audience is able to experience all of the following: her insecurities as a college student, her frustration as a professor, her diagnosis, her treatment, and her death. It isn’t just a description of these events; the audience actually sees the events take place. Throughout the play, Vivian offers her own commentary on the past and present. The use of drama as opposed to a novel or other form supports the intimate nature of this play. It allows Vivian to become well-rounded human being, rather than being defined only as a victim of cancer. Additionally, the use of drama also allows the audience to experience the intense, fast paced nature of the final scene. Vivian’s death is powerful and gripping. It is a raw and emotional experience for the audience after learning so much about her over the course of the play. I don’t believe any other writing form could capture this intensity in quite the same way.
Edson, Margaret. Wit. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1999. Print.