PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Wit Donne to Death

By Harry Haun
27 Jan 2012


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When Wit first surfaced 13 years ago Off-Broadway, it won every award that wasn't nailed down and every Best Actress prize for the incomparable Kathleen Chalfant, save one — the Tony, which then and now only honors Broadway. Its tardy appearance on the Main Stem now at least gives Nixon a shot at that award.

"There are so many things I love about Vivian," the actress gushed sincerely. "I love her speeches. I love her talking to the audience. I love her sly humor. I love her determination not to be sentimental — until she embraces sentimentality with open arms because finally she embraces feeling. It is one thing to see someone who is emotionally connected already have an emotional experience, but to see someone who is emotionally detached finally come to their feelings — that's a big thing to see."

The density and intensity of the character's scholarly verbiage would be daunting to other actresses, but Nixon jumped into the words with gleeful abandon. "I did, I did, I just did. It didn't even take me that long to memorize, either." What was much harder, she allowed, was "finding the modulation of how her emotion finally cracks through — not having it happen too early, not having it happen too late, not having it be too big for too long — to really modulate it so it's just right."



Her calibration apparently jived with Edson's. "She seemed very pleased," Nixon said cautiously. "I really haven't gotten a chance to debrief with her, but she kept saying to me, 'You're so brave, you're so brave,' so I thought that was a good sign."

Nixon would qualify as Poster Child for Actress Bravery, if only for the show's logo in which she fearlessly, almost defiantly, displays a cancer patient's shaved head.

Greg Keller
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meadow, artistic director for MTC and the show's nominal director, was plainly pleased at what she had wrought. "I had a ball," she said, then amended that: "It sounds crazy to describe this play as deep and harrowing and funny and a large play because I think the writing of the play is so good. I think that the play is about something that really matters. It is, in its own way, talking to us in a non-preachy way about what it means to have grace in our lives, to face life with an understanding of death. This all sounds like, 'Oh, do I want to sit through this in the theatre?' — but the reality is: every night people are sitting there, they're laughing, they're crying, they're leaping to their feet — that tells you something. You can't make that up. You can't take 650 people and say, 'Now, you have to stand up.' They do this on their own because they're moved. With Cynthia's work, it's an incredible experience."

Greg Keller, Broadway-debuting here as the professor's primary M.D. and her former A-minus student ("I wish I'd given him an A"), attested to the even-keeled rehearsal-process temperature. "We always made sure that we kept the rehearsal room light and fun — but serious when it needed to be serious," he relayed, "and Lynne was really great about understanding the demands of the show."

"Honestly, it was completely dreamy," seconded Jessica Dickey, one of the medical ensemble. "Cynthia, just from the start, was such an impeccable leader and gracious and smart and kind and so competent at her craft. All those rumors are true there. And Lynne has such a generous spirit and brought that into the room. Every day we began with this circle, and we worked on the play, and it really sorta embodied the spirit of the whole process, and it continues now even into the run."

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