Coming to terms with mortality through ‘wit’

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Coming to terms with mortality through ‘wit’

Cancer can be a devastating disease, and to succumb to the illness gracefully is excruciating. To accept cancer with wit and humor requires extraordinary courage.
“Wit: A Play” delves into such weighty issues as what makes one’s life worthwhile in the face of death, what the most important thing is in relationships with loved ones, and what a humbling experience facing death is. But the play contemplates such philosophical questions on life and death in a witty manner.
The story centers on a renowned professor of English, Vivian Bearing, who has spent years studying the profound metaphysical sonnets of 17h century English poet John Donne. In her 50s, she has no friends, nor has she ever been married.
One day, Vivian is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. Refusing to be daunted, she initially approaches her illness in the same way she does her research on Donne: scientifically probing, rationally and mixed with levity. She tries to fight death by repeating Donne’s sonnet lines, “And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
However, in the course of eight months of treatment, she undergoes an experimental chemotherapy program at a major hospital, and endures extreme pain. Viviane sees herself as a mere subject of research by the doctors and realizes the hollowness of her life.
She looks back on her life and tries to reassess herself with humor that is as touching and cathartic to herself as it is to the audience. Given the intense emotion that this play generates, it is bound to stir audience members to reevaluate their own values in life.
The play, starring Yoon Suk-hwa, is making an encore appearance after a successful run in Gangnam earlier this year. It made its debut in Korea in February as part of the “Female Actresses Series” produced by PMC Production, which also produced “Nanta.”
Ms. Yoon, 49, went so far as to shave her head for the performances to provide greater authenticity, and it is due to her star power that the play is a great hit. Her role takes up the lion’s share of the play, making it almost a one-person show. Ms. Yoon is playing her first conventional dramatic role in five years with “Wit.”
Written by Margaret Edson, the play has won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1999) and the New York Drama Critic’s Award, among many others, since its debut off Broadway in 1995. The play has won rave reviews in its time for being both intellectually and emotionally challenging to the audience. This is Ms. Edson’s first play, but it has received critical praise for its thought-provoking plot.

by Choi Jie-ho

“Wit” will be performed at the Jungmiso Theater in Daehangno from April 22 to June 5. In Korean, with no English subtitles. Show times are 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 and 7 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. No show on Monday. Ticket prices range from 20,000 won ($20) to 50,000 won. For more information, call (020) 3672-3001 or visit
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