Critical Context

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As drama, Wit approaches the form of Shakespearean tragedy, appearing at times to be comedic but moving inevitably toward its predetermined end. It is not Vivian Bearing’s death that makes the play tragic, however, but her failure to realize, until it is too late, how much of her life she has wasted in pursuing knowledge at the expense of personal relationships. This particularly modern theme resonates with audiences because modern American society has placed such emphasis on professional accomplishment as a means of establishing self-worth.

Wit won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in drama, the New York Drama Critics Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Outer Critics’ Circle Award. It is Edson’s first play, and she stated to numerous reviewers and reporters that she would not pursue a career as a dramatist and would remain a kindergarten teacher. Nevertheless, the critical acclaim that met the production when it first debuted in California, the consistent praise it received from New York critics, and the continuing interest further productions generated in cities across the country suggest that the play strikes a chord with playgoers that will give Wit staying power on the American stage.

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Critical Overview