Cynthia Nixon Wit, Context is everything. I saw Wit on Broadway recently and found this production more satisfying than the original Off Broadway version starring Kathleen Chalfant. The supporting cast is stronger here, letting the work feel more like a full play rather like a one-woman show the way it did with Chalfant dominating proceedings. But a new look at Margaret Edson’s work reinforced my belief that this show is not successful beyond its strong central character and becomes less interesting as the drama of watching our heroine die takes over.
In this Pulitzer Prize winner, Nixon plays Vivian Bearing, a college professor who specializes in the metaphysical poet John Donne. Chalfant seemed to live entirely in her mind and was somewhat clueless about her effect on those around the imperious professor. Nixon strikes a more vulnerable note, with Bearing using her intellect more as a barrier or a way of ignoring the emotional emptiness in her life. She is stricken by cancer and we watch the all-too familiar stages as she is diagnosed, defiant, confused, angry and ultimately takes solace in the attention of those around her. It might be played as taking the professor down a notch — this intellect who disdains the nurse as stupid is at the end of her life desperate for a shared moment of humanity. She is reduced or more accurately opened up to the importance of others, whether it’s a med student with terrible bedside manners or a nurse who politely shares a popsicle, knowing how much patients need contact.
Neither production took this tack, choosing to view her ultimate emotional vulnerability as natural and understandable. It’s the same reason the new film about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher focuses on her late-period dementia; sympathy comes easily to anyone seeing it, whatever you think of her politics.
Lynee Meadows smoothly directs Nixon, who like the play is stronger earlier on when Bearing is at her best. The text by Margaret Edson simply isn’t very interesting — the general conceit of wit as an insight into Donne or life in general simply doesn’t flower here. The dig at the nurse might be seen as a complicating view of Bearing, but it too doesn’t register. The nurse isn’t stupid, just uneducated or at least certainly not as well educated as Bearing. I wish the play had made better use of the slight; it’s a cheap laugh that doesn’t pay off later except in the most sentimental, obvious manner.
The cast is strong, with Michael Countryman good in dual roles, Suzanne Bertish very good as our heroine’s mentor, Carra Patterson strong in the straightforward role of the nurse and Greg Keller using a funky voice and amusingly self-absorbed manner to score the strongest of any supporting player as Jason Posner, the trainee who is as clueless as Bearing about social skills but bonds with her about research and science.
Plus, a lovely grace note at the end is utterly ruined by Edson. When the friendless Bearing finally gets a visit from her mentor, she moans over the possibility of being read Donne and instead they snuggle up to a children’s book. The sweet, simple rhythms of a picture book stand in stark contrast to the life of the mind Bearing has embraced (or perhaps taken shelter in). It’s not a condemnation on Bearing’s life, just an acknowledgement that at the end simpler pleasures are called for. This gentle finale is spoiled by Edson clumsily having the mentor rather grandly and unnecessarily tacking on a quote from Hamlet when a simple “The end” (the finale to every picture book and every life) or simple silence would have served much better. The great poets know what to leave unsaid.
Nick Jonas How To Succeed In Business, Broadway’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” has a new leading man — Nick Jonas.The 19-year-old, who rose to fame along with his brothers, Kevin and Joe, as part of the Jonas Brothers group, has taken over Daniel Radcliffe’s role in the popular show. However, it’s not the first time Jonas has hit the Great White Way; he began performing on stage when he was just seven years old, and has appeared in shows including “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Les Misérables”
The entertainer, who has sold 20 million albums worldwide as part of the Jonas Brothers, talked to The Huffington Post about his new theater gig and his feelings about moving past his boy band fame.
You just started your tenure as J. Pierrepont Finch in “How To Succeed.” How’s it going so far?
I just finished my first week and I’m feeling more and more confident each night I do the show. I’m just excited to grow in this role.
Was starring in a Broadway show a big dream of yours?
I actually started off in theater as a kid. I did four Broadway shows in New York, so it’s been a dream to come back to Broadway now and to be playing this role, one of the few leading roles for a young man.
You’re going to be in the show until July. Are you going to play in the Broadway softball league?
I love baseball. We definitely want to get our team together, and I think there’s already been talk of me being the team captain.
Would you rather win a Tony or the softball league trophy?
I think a Tony would definitely be first. I love softball, but it’s not nearly as important to me as maybe a Tony would be.
Is it nice to be out of the Jonas Brothers spotlight, at least for a little while?
I’d say that it’s been a really interesting journey, the past five or six years, coming now to this place where we can take on different projects, things that we’re passionate about, and focus on those things. Then one day we’ll come back together as a group and continue to record, that will be great. But it has been nice to sort of step back and do some different things.
It must be great to be able to walk down the street without paparazzi following you.
It’s been a great season of sort of really finding some independence and doing my own thing. I can walk the street here in New York; I wear a hat, a scarf and a big jacket and I’m usually fine. There are moments when it becomes more interesting than others, and I should probably have somebody with me just to help. The fans who do approach me are so supportive and excited for me to be in this show.
Did you and your brothers ever get on each other’s nerves while working together?
We’re brothers, so there were moments here and there, but we actually are each other’s best friends. We have quite a close relationship. We’re very thankful and feel very blessed to have that.