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The Sword of “Wit” Slices Deeply, and Margaret Edson’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winner Sticks with You

Rasool Jahan will star in "Wit" for The Justice Theater Project on Feb. 7-23 (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Rasool Jahan will star in “Wit” for The Justice Theater Project on Feb. 7-23 (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Wit by Margaret Edson is a tour-de-force play for a resilient and powerful actress, fleshed out with seven subordinate performers who are necessary to advance the plot. The Justice Theater Project’s cast does an excellent job of supporting their principal; and she, Rasool Jahan, fills the role completely.

The story takes place during the last year of Dr. Vivian Bearing’s life, as she recounts her experiences as a patient with stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer, who has agreed to an experimental chemotherapy treatment. As a Ph.D. scholar of John Donne, she sprinkles her reminiscences with references to his Divine Sonnets, particularly the ninth one and the 10th, more often known by its first line “Death be not proud.” Part of the irony of this play is Vivian’s recognition that her doctors are more interested in her as a specimen than as a person, as she herself was more interested in the academics of her students than their personal needs, giving rise to a discussion on the part humanity plays in the medical system in our country.

Rasool Jahan displays a vast range, running from the cool, utterly intellectual professor to the agonizing pain of the cancer and possibly being frightened about her impending death. She gets terribly worse before our very eyes.

Jason Power, M.D., the research physician assigned to her case, is played by Byron Jennings with a coolness, a lack of bedside manner, that is sizzling. Perhaps his best delivered line is “Cancer is awesome!”

Page Purgar does a fine job as nurse Susie Monahan, R.N., B.S.N, the only character in the play who shows any compassion. John Honeycutt plays Dr. Kelekian, who leads Vivian into the experimental therapy in three or four sentences and before she really understands the implications of the treatment, with all the short shrift and alacrity of a busy administrator needing one more subject for his students. Honeycutt also doubles as Vivian’s father in a short scene.

Director Carnessa Ottelin has rounded up the right cast for this show, so heavily weighted to one character, but a true ensemble occurs amongst them all. Timing is sharp, movement of the gurney across the stage is smart and uncomplicated, scenes changes happen smoothly, and the mobile medications stand was moved around easily. Technical director and set designer Kate Morehead gives us an accessible stage, compartmented by bright sterile curtains, easily moved to change scenes.

This show represents The Justice Theater Project’s theme for its 2013-14 season, which is the state of the American health care system. JTP’s main-stage season began on Sept. 6-22, 2013 with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman, and will conclude June 13-29 with Grey Gardens: The Musical, with music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie, and book by Doug Wright, based on the 1975 documentary by Albert Mayles and David Maysles.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 10th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Lamarr Fowlkes: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/02/brevity-is-the-soul-of-wit-but-wit-encompasses-more-in-less/; Feb. 8th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Andrea McKerlie Luke: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=6622; and Feb. 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/wit/Event?oid=3799589.

The Justice Theater Project presents WIT at 8 p.m. Feb. 14 and 15, 2 p.m. Feb. 16, 8 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22, 2 p.m. Feb. 23 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of Saint Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Road, Raleigh, NC 27613):

TICKETS: $20 ($15 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $12 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: http://www.etix.com/.

INFORMATION 919-264-7089 or marketing@thejusticetheaterproject.org.

SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/Wit–Grey-Gardens.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/206071022932882/.

PRESENTER: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458.

VENUE: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Catholic-Community-of-St-Francis-of-Assisi/172774212838785.

DIRECTIONS/MAPS: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/mapsandphotos.

NOTE 1: At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15th, there will be a preshow panel discussion on “Access to Care,” with area professionals and advocates, including Carolyn Byrd, Jim Hilke, Judy Barton, and Michael Keough.

NOTE 2: During the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16th, performance, there will be FREE childcare with activities for children ages 3 and up. Advance reservations are required.

NOTE 3: During the show’s final weekend Feb. 21-23, there will be a “Resource Fair” before and after each performance. Participants include Cancer Companions, the American Cancer Society, Cornucopia Cancer Support Center, Susan G. Komen®, Stephen Ministries, Navigator, Fight Like Paxton, Livestrong at the YMCA, and Lovely Lady.

NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23th, performance. Visually impaired patrons are admitted for FREE, but reservations are required.

OTHER LINKS:

Wit (1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama-winning play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2834 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wit_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://faculty.smu.edu/tmayo/witguide.htm (Madison Repertory Theatre of Dallas, TX).

Margaret Edson (Atlanta, GA playwright and teacher, born 1961): http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/margaret-edson-b-1961 (New Georgia Encyclopedia) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Edson (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Reviews