For all its critical adoration and awards — including a Pulitzer Prize and an acclaimed HBO adaptation with Emma Thompson — one thing is missing from the resume of Margaret Edson’s play “Wit” – a Broadway engagement.
That changes next week. In previews now, “Wit” officially opens on Broadway for the first time Jan. 26. (Its 1998 New York engagement was not an official Broadway production).
The Manhattan Theatre Club is staging the play with openly lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon in the role of Dr. Vivian Bearing, a college professor who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Looking back at her life in flashbacks, Vivian realizes that she could be as cold and uncompassionate to her students as the doctors are to her now.
Edson — who lives in Atlanta and is also openly gay — is delighted that the show is finally Broadway bound. Lynne Meadow, the artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, was working with her staff planning her 2011-2012 season when the idea of “Wit” came up.
Meadow realized it was a great idea and agreed to direct it, and subsequently called Edson. With Edson enthusiastically on board, Meadow then called Nixon, who also loved the idea.
“It was that easy,” says Meadow. “I wish every play was as easy as that – one, two, three.”
Edson lives in Atlanta with her partner, Linda Merrill, and has seen most all of the local productions of “Wit,” including the Alliance version in 2000. When she realized that the play was going to be staged in New York, she flew up to meet Meadow, Nixon and the cast. Most of the time, as a playwright, she isn’t involved in the collaborative process but notes that Meadow very much wanted to get her take for this version.
Edson had a great visit and thinks the play is in very capable hands. Nixon, she feels, is a perfect choice.
“People know her from TV but she has a history with New York theater,” she says. “She’s been in 40 plays and she sees as much as she can.”
Nixon won a Tony back in 2006 for the play “Rabbit Hole” — also produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club — and many expect her to be in contention again this year.
Having an out actress in the role of Bearing, though, should make no difference in the scope of the play, Edson feels.
“I don’t think it matters,” she says. “It’s about working on the text and bringing it to life.”
In addition to her December visit, Edson will also attend opening night.
Meadow has long been a fan of the play.
“It’s so incredibly intelligent, perceptive and full of wisdom,” she says. “Neither Cynthia or I can believe [Margaret] has only written one play.”
Nixon and Meadow are both cancer survivors. Meadow says a lot of her personal experience went into her version of the play. The big difference, she says, is that she’s still alive.
“I had great doctors,” she acknowledges.
Despite the acclaim for “Wit,” Edson has never been tempted to move, saying she loves her home, Atlanta and her job teaching. Her local family includes two children.
“We’ve been here 13 years and we love it,” she says. “We love the people. We are here to stay.”
Edson currently teaches sixth grade social studies at Inman Middle School.
“I wrote ‘Wit’ when I was 30 and I’m now 50,” she says. “I never wanted to stop teaching — this is my 19th year.”
Top photo: Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer-winning play ‘Wit’ is finally headed to Broadway, with lesbian breast cancer survivor Cynthia Nixon in the starring role. (courtesy Edson)