Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-prize winning drama “Wit” made a powerful debut at Cyrano's Off-center Playhouse Sept. 21.
Powerful in that it showed that Anchorage theatre doesn't have to ride the wave of conventional thinking that regional theatre doesn't, or hasn't, offered strong performances or produced shows that bite at modern conventions and American culture.
A drama with razor-sharp wit, the story follows the last months of Vivian Bearing, Ph. D. and her losing battle with ovarian cancer. Elizabeth Ware takes charge of the character and her obsession with metaphysical 16th-century poetry. Bearing's strength belies the fact that she needs contact with people.
As the play unfolds Bearing's life is portrayed in a series of flashbacks and monologues delivered like a college professor lecturing to her students.
All carry the weight of her character's delivery and cadence. As a specialist in the works of John Donne, most notably his metaphysical plays, she has a vocabulary that from the opening scene makes it hard for the listener to keep track of the jargon she spouts quickly and without conviction. But the wording is necessary and provides for moments of levity throughout the play, especially in scenes involving her cancer screenings with Harvey Kelekian, M.D. (Dick Reichman of “Sunshine Boys.”) Bearing flows from a confident woman answering questions with a venomous, yet certain tongue to a sobbing and grief stricken woman yearning for the comfort and love she has so often espoused.
The language in the play, though not contemporary, provides a caricature of the medical research profession and the person's ability to hide behind words, something given to the viewer during a flashback to Bearing's teachings on Dunne.
Presented without intermission and running 2 1/2 hours, “Wit” is a step-up for the Anchorage theatre scene, most notably the Eccentric Theatre Company, who pushed for the show's run.
Peppered with irony, the character's lives during the 8 month-long cancer sessions are given the opportunity to show depth, and yet they remain true to their first impressions on the audience.
Young medical fellow Jason Posner (UAA alum Yosh Hayashi,) an ex-student of Bearing's, steals some of the focus away from Bearing's plight. His disaffected doctor falls from grace as the play unfolds, showing the viewer that a person's profession can change their outlooks and ideals.
The climactic scene offers a lesson on mortality and morality as Bearing's nurse, Susie Monahan (UAA alum Mira Vasiljevic,) comforts her before death comes calling.
The play's pace never leaves the viewer time to wonder, as Marybeth Bielawski's direction and Thomas Higgin's set design allow for quick scene shifts that take place behind the monologues Bearing gives to segue from setting to setting.
Scott Tenglelin's lighting transitions smoothly and reassures the focus of the audience's eye on Bearing.
The nature of the story, the dramatic effects and too-real props, the gravity of the issue it covers and the theme of deconstruction grade this production as not for the faint of heart.
It is, however, a production that showcases Anchorage's local talent. “Wit” is also a performance that stands as a lesson for theatre-goers, who have come to depend on re-run plays and revivals, to fill their fall calendars with the chance to watch something both contemporary and contemplative.
Go see “Wit,” and then think about how easy it is to forget what life really means, or should mean.