Originally announced by the character Polonius in William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet”, this phrase is reiterated by main character Dr. Vivian Bearing in the one-act play “Wit” by Margaret Edson. Dr. Bearing (played by actor Rasool Jahan) is an esteemed professor of English Literature forced to re-address her life when diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. Agreeing to an experimental chemotherapeutic treatment program under the recommendation of Oncologist Dr. Harvey Kelekian (portrayed by actor John Honeycutt), she is placed under the emotionally detached observation of Dr. Jason Posner (portrayed by actor Byron Jennings), a research fellow who once was a student of hers, and care of nurse Susie Monahan (portrayed by actor Page Purgar), who offers her compassion and company.
Whilst staying at the hospital, Vivian maintains her composure by employing the humor of wit and exploring the intricacies of the English language through usage of the metaphysical of English satirist poet John Donne. Reciting Donne’s sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud”, she muses on her condition in contrast to her life as a professor, having had a reputation for rigorous teaching methods.
Throughout the course of treatment, Bearing recognizes the attending doctors’ interests in her solely for research purposes and their prioritization of discovery over interaction. As her condition worsens, she recalls undergoing various medical tests, reminisces on her shared love of languages and literature with her late father (also portrayed by actor John Honeycutt), and suffers flashbacks to her own experience as a student under the tutelage of English Professor Dr. E. M. Ashford (portrayed by actor Kathy Norris). From this ordeal comes the revelation that she would prefer genuine human kindness over intellectual gain.
“Wit” is a genuine tearjerker, bearing (no pun intended) an undeniably startling message and furthered enhanced by a talented supporting cast of actors (Lorelei Mellon, Caroline Millington & Victor Rivera all sharing in multi-performance roles of Lab Technicians, Students, and Residents). At its conclusion, I found myself feeling both astonished by the often unstated, yet widely practiced emotional distance of attending physicians to their patients and inspired by the steadfast resolve showcased by Bearing (traits that I’m sure are shared by many other Cancer-afflicted patients as well). Extended praise must also be given to actor Rasool Jahan for her performance. While I was initially drawn to the character due to her extensive literary knowledge and verbal fluidity, I later took note of how Jahan physically embodied Dr. Vivian Bearing to such an extent that one would believe they were in her actual presence.
Apart of a season long discussion on the American Health Care system titled, “We Are One Body” – an examination of the many human aspects of the American health care system, producing company The Justice Theater Project has chosen to shine a light on the unspoken challenges and even harsher realities patients diagnosed with Cancer face. Whether you or someone you know has been affected or you’re simply looking to take in a show, I implore all to go see “Wit”. The gravity of the subject matter and riveting performances will leave a lasting impression and the prevalence of the aforementioned wit should arouse your own clever dialogue, apt for any situation.
“Wit” will be performed on February 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8:00 pm & February 9, 16 and 23 at 2:00 pm at Clare Hall Fellowship Center, St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Road, Raleigh. Tickets are $20 for Adults, $15 for students/senior citizens/military, and $12 for groups of 10 or more. All seating is general admission. (919)264-7089. www.TheJusticeTheaterProject.org
The Justice Theater Project (JTP) is an advocacy and activist theater company whose mission is to use the performing arts to bring to the fore of public attention the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Each year JTP presents a diverse combination of original works, main stage productions, and community outreach events focusing on issues of social justice.