Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The Wit (and Will) of an Astounding Performance
University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players’ production of Margaret Edson’s tour-de-force play, Wit. If Kathleen Pirkl Tague — who portrays the plays central character Vivian Bearing, Ph.D. — would answer, I hope she would say, "I accomplished greatness." Because, under the superb direction of Sanford Robbins, Ms. Tague gives one of the best, if not the best, performances I have seen this theater season.
Vivian, a well-respected, 50-year-old university professor of 17th Century poetry, is diagnosed with stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer at the beginning of the 100-minute play. Once she receives the diagnosis, her intellect takes over and she begins analyzing each term spoken by her doctor (Harvey Kelekian, M.D. played by Lee E. Ernst) and researching the disease. Vivian is a strong-willed, independent person, and through flashbacks we see her match wits with everyone — from her father when she was a child to her college professor when she was a young lady to the present with her oncologist and his clinical fellow (Jason Posner, M.D., played by Michael Gotch). Posner also happens to be one of her former students.
Vivian’s parents are deceased and she never married or had children. Her marriage is to her career, which leaves her without any human support while enduring an experimental chemotherapy treatment. However, she does develop a friendship with an unlikely person — her nurse (Susie Monahan, R.N., B.S.N., played by Jasmine Bracey) — who doesn’t know anything about poetry, but does know about being kind and respecting her patient’s wishes.
Wit doesn't promise its audience a happy ending; it doesn't sugarcoat the struggles of battling cancer. It’s a rough play, but the playwright managed to weave a great deal of humor into her text. The humor helps to alleviate the tension and sadness you feel as you follow the lead character on her dour journey.
Ms. Tague’s performance is astonishing. She creates this complex character, evolving from an in-control professor passionate about research to a person dependent on others and becoming the subject of her doctor’s research. She tires of being asked, “How do you feel today,” by her medical team. (She's dealing with cancer, how do they expect her to feel?) Her usual is“Fine.” However, she knows she’s not fine and there is only one outcome for her.
Mr. Gotch gives a stellar performance as Posner, who is uncomfortable having to examine his former professor, but is willing to go against her do not resuscitate wishes to continue researching the experimental treatment Vivian is receiving. Bracey’s character Susie stops Posner from resuscitating Vivian during one of the most traumatic scenes during the play. Ms Bracey is astounding as Susie. She and Mr. Gotch’s performances during the final scene are as intense as riding in a car when the brakes give out.
Don’t miss this production. It’s rare when you see such a satisfying, thought-provoking play that keeps your interest from beginning to end!
Wit plays at the Roselle Center for the Arts until May 10th. Visit www.rep.udel.edu or call 302.831.2204 for tickets.