A precise, demanding and affecting play, “Wit” plunges its audience into an examination of life and death through the eyes of an academic scholar who has been more occupied with the life of her mind than that of her body. Megan Cole, aided by Martin Benson’s meticulous direction, delivers a wallop of a performance.
Vivian Bearing, Ph.D. (Cole), is dying of metastatic ovarian cancer when she agrees to a new chemical therapy. As tough as her reputation, Vivian may be the perfect candidate for the rigorous eight-month program. It might kill her before the disease does.
Dr. Posner (Brian Drillinger), the research resident who oversees the therapy , is a former student of Vivian’s.
Only now, removed from her classes and writing, does Vivian perceive what she’s missed in life. She sees in Dr. Posner the same intellectual, misanthropic zeal she once possessed, an attitude that in the end has brought her no visitors , no love.
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After a career spent studying the work of poet John Donne, Vivian finds eerie new meaning in his thoughts on death and God.
First-time playwright Margaret Edson crafts the force of the play not through bleakness, but with humor and insight.
Director Benson constructs images that, through their juxtaposition, make some of the stage’s most tender moments: A nurse (Mary Kay Wulf) who applies hand cream to an unconscious Vivian; a mentor (Patricia Fraser) who cradles the scholar.
Cole speaks alone to the audience for much of the play; she brings out the passion of pedagogy. As Dr. Posner, Drillinger effectively shows that intelligence isn’t everything. As senior oncologist Dr. Kelekian, Richard Doyle holds similar traits, but tempered with the knowledge that people matter — somehow. As the nurse, Wulf offers warmth and a human touch.
Cliff Faulkner’s stage shows that less is more. It’s dominated by a towering off-white wall whose tall, elevator-like doors part long enough to spit out doctors or medical equipment.
Michael Roth’s music is subtle and effective. Paulie Jenkins’ light design brings a hint of color to what might otherwise be a sterile stage.