I remembered seeing Wit as a movie in 2001 where the main character, Dr. Vivian Bearing portrayed by Emma Thompson, is dying of Stage IV ovarian cancer. Although there are some characters on the sidelines it is mainly a one woman show. However, this was originally a play written by Margaret Edison for which she won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I cannot think of a playwright more deserving or a title that ever more accurately describes its subject.
Cynthia Nixon has been acting on Broadway since she was a child. She rose to fame on
Sex and the City playing lawyer Miranda Hobbes. But I think television doesn’t do her justice. I first saw her on Broadway in The Women in 2001. Wow I can’t believe it was that long ago. If you saw the recent remake in the movies I apologize the play is actually nothing like that and of course much better. What I remember most was how incredible Ms. Nixon was and that after the matinee I saw, she came out of the stage door with her young daughter and still stopped to sign my playbill even though she was pressed for time to get back for her next performance. Now this was way before I was the stage door stalker I am today (for tips- http://bit.ly/GI9W5C) and her charm left an impression on me. How could such a celebrity be so kind? It is rare I will tell you that.
Her next Broadway role was in 2006 in David Linsday-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Rabbit Hole. Ms. Nixon would win a Tony Award for her portrayal of a grief stricken mother. Once again this movie, minus Ms. Nixon was also no good. I didn’t get to see this play and it is something I have always regretted.
So when it was announced that Wit was opening for a very limited Broadway run from January to March 2012 and Ms. Nixon would be portraying Dr. Bearing, I knew come hell or high water I had to get there. And I did, thanks to the theater extending the performance by a week; I made it there with four days to spare. It is the closest I have ever come to missing a show I so desperately wanted to see.
I knew seeing this performance would be life changing. I had an instinct about it. I never questioned how good it would be, or if I would like it. Even though I knew how it ended and didn’t really like the movie, I knew I had to be here. The subject matter wouldn’t be fun and it wasn’t a musical but it was a must do on my bucket list for this year.
Boy, am I glad I listen to myself. I am a genius. To say that I was right is to put it mildly. I was surprised to my core with what an awe inspiring evening I had. To begin with I had Shake Shack for dinner, always, a crowd pleaser. (http://bit.ly/GHqASk)
Second, I got to see and sit near living acting legend Vanessa Redgrave! God it is happy coincidences like this that make living in NYC a treat.
Third, Cynthia Nixon’s performance gave me chills. There were moments I actually caught myself holding my breath. I wanted to bawl my eyes out one second, and scream out laughing in the next. Of course the writing, staging, lighting and direction were nothing short of brilliance. Her co-stars were excellent and even though the roles they played were minor they were wonderful. But I find myself at a loss for words when trying to convey how marvelous Ms. Nixon was. This is not something that happens to me often.
When you think of the great moments of your life, the best of times, the most memorable, what are you thinking of? Did you see something that changed your views? Is it a scene that keeps replaying in your mind? For me this play is on my top events of all time lists for all of these reasons. I almost hesitated to write about it because it was such an emotional experience for me and not in a bad or sad way. It was incredible to be a part of that live performance. This show is the perfect example of why I love the theater so (these are the other reasons- http://bit.ly/GG9UNb).
Ms. Nixon’s performance was a strong, committed, funny, serious, and the list goes on and on. Her talent is endless. As I think about her in this play, I begin to think about how many other things I have enjoyed seeing her in. On television, besides Sex and the City, one show immediately pops into my mind: E.R. In 2005, she played a woman who has had a stroke who comes into the E.R. At first she is doing a lot of talking and the audience hears her pleas for help, cries, and questions. And then it hits you like a brick wall. The camera pans out and you can see all the doctors and nurses running around and realize they can’t hear her. She has had a stroke and knows what is going on but can’t communicate. They have no idea if she is aware of what is going on. They are making decisions about surgery and her future and she has opinions but can’t give them. It is one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever seen.
Another favorite also took place in 2005 in HBO’s Warm Springs. Ms. Nixon portrays Eleanor Roosevelt and received an Emmy nomination for this role. This is one of my favorite movies and she is a large reason why. Now the more I think about the shows and movies I love, I am realizing how many Ms. Nixon has been in: House, Law and Order SVU, Law and Order Criminal Intent, Too Big to Fail, etc. The list goes on and on.
During the course of “Wit”, Dr. Vivian Bearing as a scholar of John Donne’s poetry continues to go over and over the different ways she has analyzed the words in “Death Be Not Proud” throughout her life. As she nears the end of hers it has now taken on a whole new meaning since it is a reality and not a play on words. If not for Ms. Nixon’s brilliant embodiment of this sonnet as the meaning changes for our heroine all would be lost for this play.
Thankfully I knew what was coming beforehand. I knew that in the end Dr. Bearing loses her brave battle with cancer. The scene was beautiful in the same way it was shattering. I heard people crying from thirty minutes prior. The whole show is about life and death, love and the human connection, and it makes you think. The house was packed and you could have heard a pin drop. When it was over the applause was loud enough to shake the street outside and very well deserved. Following my usual M.O., I was the first one out the door and to the barricade in front of the stage door. I was not going to miss getting a picture of Ms. Nixon or a chance to get my playbill signed.
After waiting a little bit, I got another glimpse and this photo of my new BFF. Vanessa Redgrave as she came out of the stage door after apparently visiting with Ms. Nixon.
Then I waited a bit more and nothing could have prepared me for how worth it, it would be. Ms. Nixon, the doll that she is, came out; friendly, smiling, and energetic. It didn’t look like she had been in a show that she had completely held together for the last ninety minutes, non-stop, eight nights a week. I was more exhausted than she appeared. Then bless her heart, she offered to pose in a picture with me, and asked my name to get this: PERSONALIZE MY PLAYBILL!!! In all my years of stalking celebrities, I mean appreciating actors, I have never ever gotten a personalized playbill. Let alone from someone so wonderfully kind and talented. Needless to say I was floating on air.
As I was on the bus ride home reflecting on my incredible night, I past the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park with the Empire State Building all light up with bright white lights in the background and as if on cue Alicia Keys was suddenly singing in my ears as my iPod played “Empire State of Mind.” I guess I do live in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. Cynthia Nixon certainly made mine come true and I hope I did her some justice too.
For Wit on Broadway (now closed):