“Wit,” which opens at the Ice House theatre in Visalia on March 3, is a beautifully written play about the metamorphosis that can occur when one realizes she is not immortal. Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama depicts the journey of a highly educated, academically overachieving woman who has been diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer.
Vivian Bearing, who is portrayed by Debbie Walker, has devoted her life to the study of John Donne, a metaphysical poet known for his “wit.” Never heard of John Donne? Not so, quotes from his poetry include “No man is an island,” and “for whom the bell tolls.” You may not know his name, but you do know his work through such familiar phrases.
“The present of the play is the last hour and a half of Vivian’s life,” noted Walker, “but the past includes her childhood, education, teaching, and diagnosis.” As Vivian relives her life, the audience is led on a journey of reflection, encouraged to think about what they have done with their lives.
While Vivian, for the first time in her life, tries to get in touch with her humanity, she is confronted with doctors who see her treatment as an experiment and her as a subject rather than a person. Dr. Kelekian (Tom Nance) who presented her diagnosis is anxious to have another guinea pig for his research.
Ironically, Dr. Jason Posner (Peter McGuire), one of her former students, is a clinical assistant in her experimental treatment program. McGuire notes the confusion of the role reversal now that she is a patient and he the controlling figure. Nevertheless, McGuire explains, “her class affected how Posner approaches his work. The human side of things does not come natural to him. That’s one of the problems he has.”
The one positive figure in the final days of Vivian’s journey is her mentor from her doctorate 30 years ago. Debra Hansen portrays E. M. Ashford now in her 80s and the only visitor Vivian has in the hospital. Hansen said, “Vivian was never connected emotionally with her heart. Her dad only valued her for her intellect. She has lived her entire life through her intellect and in the end she finds that’s not enough.”
Director Jennifer Toledo noted, “There are parallels between Vivian and John Donne. He went through a metamorphosis equivalent to her growth and looking back, wishing she had done things differently.” Assistant Director Lindsey Surratt added, “There is a lack of people in her life because she chose her work over all else. The play is not about death but about how to live your life.”
“Wit” runs for three weekends at the Ice House Theatre at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia. Evening performances are at 7:30pm on 3/3, 3/4, 3/10, 3/11, 3/17, and 3/18, and matinees are at 2pm on 3/5, 3/12, and 3/19. To purchase tickets go to the Visalia Players’ website at www.visaliaplayers.org, their Facebook page “Visalia Community Players”, or call 734-3900.
This play contains adult content and language.