Nobody does English lit professor-turned-ovarian cancer patient Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., better than New York actress Kate Goehring, who stepped into the role in the North Carolina Theatre‘s current production of Wit literally at the 11th hour as a last-minute replacement for Broadway actress Judy McLane, who bowed out for “personal reasons,” according to NCT. But Goehring didn’t miss a beat last Sunday night at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh as she reprised the passionate portrayal of Dr. Bearing for which she earned rave reviews last fall at Triad Stage in Greensboro.
She smoothly slipped into Dr. Bearing’s skin. Goehring’s evolution from a classroom martinet — who teaches 17th-century English metaphysical poetry and is a renowned scholar of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1572-1631) — into a hospitalized human guinea pig for a team of doctors desperately trying to find a chemotherapy treatment to keep stage IV ovarian cancer from being a death sentence.
As round after excruciating round of chemotherapy drains her more and more physically and mentally, Dr. Bearing dispenses with her prickly professorial demeanor; and she makes a rare (for her) personal connection with her compassionate primary nurse, Susie Monahan, RN, BSN, luminously played by 1991 Tony Award® winner Daisy Eagan. Nurse Monahan is increasingly concerned that Dr. Bearing’s doctors are merely prolonging her suffering for the sake of their research project, even as cancer continues to ravage the professor’s body unabated. Eagan gives a warm and winning performance as she makes Monahan’s growing concerns over her patient’s welfare palpable in a glance.
Dirk Lumbard as University Hospital chief of medical oncology Harvey Kelekian, MD, and Logan James Hall as Dr. Bearing’s former student, medical oncology branch clinical fellow Jason Posner, MD, are likewise excellent as a pair of research physicians who are so intensely — and, some might say, inhumanly — focused on finding a cure for cancer that they are oblivious to the price that their patients are paying, as they subject them to stronger and stronger rounds of chemotherapy. Drs. Kelekian and Posner seem to have souls of winter. But Jo Ann Cunningham adds a sharply etched cameo as Dr. Bearing’s 80-year-old former English literature professor and mentor, E.M. Ashford, D.Phil., who is — ironically — the only professional or personal visitor to Dr. Bearing’s hospital room.
Philadelphia, PA director Kate Galvin gets gritty performances from Kate Goehring as Dr. Vivian Bearing, Daisy Eagan as Susie Monahan, and the rest of the supporting cast, plus Jess Barbour, Matthew Hager, Christopher J. Helton, and Maggie Lea, who play assorted college students in Dr. Bearing’s class, University Hospital lab technicians, clinical fellows, and the Code Blue Team. Facing the virtually unimaginable situation of replacing your star the day before your show is to open, Galvin does yeoman’s work in smoothly integrating Kate Goehring into this production, without dimming her candlepower on candela.
My one quibble with this production is the too-dark and somewhat confusing staging of Dr. Vivian Bearing’s ultimate escape from her bed of pain. Audience members who have previously seen Wit on stage or watched the 2001 TV movie will experience a wrenching catharsis that may not hit first-time viewers of this heart-tugging drama where they live.
SECOND OPINION: May 2nd Raleigh, NC CVNC preview by the Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7965; May 2nd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by the Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-North-Carolina-Theatres-WIT-20160502, April 28th preview by the BWW News Desk: http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Judy-McLane-Departs-North-Carolina-Theatres-WIT-Kate-Goehring-to-Step-In-Opposite-Daisy-Eagan-20160428, and April 25th BWW TV interview with Daisy Eagan, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Daisy-Eagan-of-North-Carolina-Theatres-WIT-20160425; and May 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by the Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article75126387.html; April 29th New York, NY Playbill.com preview by the Olivia Clement: http://www.playbill.com/article/judy-mclane-withdraws-from-nc-theatres-wit; April 29th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with NCT President and CEO Lisa Grele Barrie, conducted by Valonda Calloway for “My Carolina Talk”: http://wncn.com/2016/04/29/nc-theatres-wit/; April 27th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/wit/Event?oid=5004761. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the April 29th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/04/ncts-production-of-wit-will-star-kate-goehring-as-dr-vivian-bearing-and-daisy-eagan-as-her-nurse/.)
The North Carolina Theatre presents WIT, starring Kate Goehring as Vivian Bearing, PhD, and Daisy Eagan as Susie Monahan, RN, BSN, at 7:30 p.m. May 3-6 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 7 and 8 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/804543.
SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/wit, https://www.facebook.com/events/1668095986744353/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/wit-5468.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
2015-16 SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/show-season/201516-season.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, May 7th, performance.
Wit (1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama-winning 1998 Off-Broadway and 2012 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2834 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/842 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/490593 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wit_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
Wit (2001 TV movie): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0243664/ (Internet Movie Database) and http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/454565/Wit/ (Turner Classic Movies).
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), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/3125 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/111635 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0249682/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Edson (Wikipedia).
Kate Galvin (Philadelphia, PA director): http://www.kategalvin.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/kate.galvin.3 (Facebook page).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)