★★★★★ - Irresistible
Wit is a noun meaning “mental sharpness, or keen intelligence.” But, we mostly use it in reference to an aptitude for quick-thinking humor. In the title of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “W;t,” she replaces the i with a semi-colon. For writers, the intent of punctuation is to guide the reader. The semi-colon acts as a pause, a speed bump, and is used to convey separate yet connected thoughts of two independent clauses within a single sentence.
Vivian Bearing (Tina Rice) is trying to separate the love and zest for life and poetry from death as she fights a losing battle with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She wants that speed bump, that long pause, that separation.
With minor complaints, Rice is superb in the role. To watch her take on the character in stages, to immerse herself, as cast members remove her outer garments to reveal a hospital robe, place rubber-soled socks on her feet, and attach the IV needle is further disclosure, bit by bit. The final debasement is in baldness, and Rice’s evolution from hoped-for benign illness to fatal disease is complete. She stands bared in body and soul.
But, Rice doesn’t simply roll over and drown in the drama of it all. She brings all the pride and, yes, wit to bear. Each phase of an experimental, excruciatingly brutal treatment is a revelation in just how tough Vivian is in mental and physical fortitude. And transitions come from the gut. Some, at times, deeply enough Rice drops her volume so low we miss the words. In other moments, there is such a rapid spewing that phrases get lost. And this playwright’s words are important, every single one of them.
While each patient’s experience is different, it’s hard to imagine, as death approaches and the final stages of the disease wracks the body, that one would have the strength to scream, holler, pant and gasp, and writhe about with the amount of energy Rice puts out. But, it’s a choice and she delivers on it with every fiber.
The supporting cast is no less effective. Especially Andrew Calvert, Sabrina Cofield, and Barbara King. Calvert drives some of the humor with perfect timing. Cofield scurries about with the humanity the other medical staff are determined to hold at a distance. And King delivers a heartfelt portrayal in her role of E.M. Ashford through a soft and soothing goodbye as she reads “The Runaway Bunny,” which I expected her to leave resting on the stomach of the comatose Vivian as a final touching tribute.
Co-directors Ann-Marie Pereth and Joseph Kucan have seen to every detail and nuance. With the line, “a doctor fuck-up,” the humor remains intact, though most of the audience was too distraught to recognize it as such.
Eric A. Koger’s set delivers some wonderful surprises of its own. First blush appears quite clinical, but layers are added with projected verses of John Donne’s “The Divine Poems,” and perfectly chosen lines of dialogue. Add in a touch of genius in blocking where, at one point, Rice’s face is painted with them and this is a production of complete submersion. John McClain’s subtle sounds complete the environment of each scene.
On its surface, the content of the script may be distasteful to some portending a dour evening of death. But, if you go, you’ll find a production that is filled with the flavor of life.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays through November 19
2 p.m. Saturday November 11, 18
Where: The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $25 - $30 (www.apublicfit.org)
Producer: A Public Fit; Artistic Director: Ann Marie Pereth; Producing Director: Joseph D. Kucan; Directors: Ann Marie Pereth, Joseph Kucan; Set Design: Eric A. Koger; Lighting Design: Elizabeth Kline; Sound Design: John McClain; Costume Design: Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova; Stage Manager: Brandi Blackman