The drama W;t (pronounced like Wit), opened tonight at the Walterdale Theatre. I have been fond of that play since I worked on a scene from it in a Citadel acting class a couple of years ago. The current production, directed by Anne-Marie Szucs, is wonderful. As long as you are not in a life situation where watching someone on a stage dying from cancer would be too difficult, I will recommend this production to you.
Mary-Ellen Perley is wonderful as Dr. Vivian Bearing, the 50-year-old academic and Donne scholar who has cancer, “late-stage metastatic ovarian cancer”. She is detached and wry, angry, lonely, thoughtful, blunt, and eventually in anguish, and it felt real to me.
The script (by Margaret Edson, and with a Pulitzer prize) and the direction and design of this production show what it’s like to be whisked around from test to test, technician to technician to research fellow, in a hospital. The ensemble players (Kingsley Leung, Sarah Van Tassel, Macalan Boniec-Jedras, Katelyn Trieu), dressed in matching scrubs and clean sneakers, whisk various pieces of apparatus around the stage, deliver Dr. Bearing to each test by wheelchair, and speak a few rote sentences each time, all the while moving at high speed and never making eye contact with Dr. Bearing or with each other. Glimpses of humanity in the medical setting are provided by her oncologist (dale Wilson) and by the nurse Susie (Bethany Hughes). Her one visitor in the hospital is her old graduate supervisor Dr. Ashcroft (Syrell Wilson), also seen in a flashback scene showing Vivian as a driven undergraduate and Dr. Ashcroft as both academically demanding and encouraging the student Vivian to seek out balanced life.
Two particularly telling scenes late in the story and late in the progression of Vivian’s illness are conversations she has in her hospital room with Susie and with the research fellow Jason (Mark Drelich). To Jason, she acknowledges that like him, she’s always been more interested in research than in people. It is clear to the audience that Vivian now wants more human connection than people like Jason are giving, but she does not criticize him directly or expect him to change, or nor does she express any regrets for her own choices. Susie is on night shift when Vivian wants someone to talk to. Susie brings the conversation around to the prognosis and the hard decisions about end-of-life choices. And in one of the most unguarded moments, Vivian asks, child-like, whether Susie will still take care of her until the end.
And the end is … the end. Messy and unfair and ugly – until it isn’t.
Playing at the Walterdale until Saturday the 12th, 8 pm Tues-Sat and 2 pm Sunday, advance tickets at Tix on the Square and same-day tickets at the theatre unless they sell out. Which they might.