Colonial Players’ production of Wit is a powerfully intense play about balancing intellect with humanity. Margaret Edson’s 1998 one act, about an English professor’s last days battling ovarian cancer, comes to heartrending life under Jacob Haythorn’s direction.
DonnaAnn Ward gives a fierceness to Professor Vivian Bearing. Relentlessly intellectual, she seizes on her doctor’s use of the word “insidious.” Speaking directly to the audience, she comments on her treatment, her reputation among colleagues and students, and literature. An expert on the poetry of 17th-century British poet John Donne, she lectures on one of his poems, explaining its complexity and why it is so important. She projects an image of strength and determination to endure. Later, she reveals how terribly she is suffering, shaking and crying out in pain. At times it is almost too much to watch. She comes to understand that “kindness” and compassion are as important as knowledge and truth.
Joseph Brugh plays Vivian’s doctor, Harvey Kelekian, with quiet determination. Explaining her diagnosis, he goes into extremely technical terms, then ends with asking her if she can be “tough.” He uses her as a test for the intern, prodding them for various side effects of her treatment. As Vivian’s father, Mr. Bearing, he is quietly supportive, reading the paper while she sounds out words and offering suggestions.
Dylan Roche plays Vivian’s other doctor, Jason Posner, with great comic timing. More interested in research than in actual patients, he is awkward in asking Vivian’s personal and medical history, and extremely tense during her pelvic exam. Asked about his research interests, he shows his passion for how cancer cells multiply, while forgetting the real pain they inflict on people. He is a mirror for Vivian’s intense desire for one subject, to the exclusion of the human.
Joi Pride plays Vivian’s nurse, Susie Monahan, with love and compassion. When Vivian begins to shake from a fever, Susie holds her and helps her get back in bed. They share Popsicles and jokes. As Susie, Pride holds Vivian and hugs her when she breaks down sobbing. At the end, Susie defends Vivian’s choice, shoving aside Doctor Posner when he tries to interfere.
Kelli Midgley gives an intensity to Professor Ashford, Vivian’s mentor. She criticizes Vivian’s approach to a poem, suggesting that she instead take up Shakespeare (to Vivian’s gasp). She rhapsodizes over the final punctuation of a Donne poem, explaining its importance. Later, she is much more maternal, kissing Vivian on the forehead and reading her a children’s storybook.
Tom Bethards, Jane Carrigan, Madison Davis, Christina Hudson, and Nicholas Martinez have ensemble roles, playing interns and Vivian’s students. Madison Davis especially stands out as a student asking an insightful question about the poetry and its meaning.
Set Designers Heather Quinn and Carrie Shade recreate the starkness of hospitals with a stage consisting mainly of a large table that also serves as a hospital bed. Crates throughout the stage are used as chairs, while an IV tower stands prominently near the center. Costume Designers Shannon McElwee and Abigail Traverson ensure the characters are easily distinguished. Vivian stands out in her hospital gown, socks, and baseball caps, while Doctors Kelekian and Posner wear white lab coats, and Susie wears green scrubs. Professor Ashford looks academic in a plaid skirt and scarf.
Lighting Designers Jami S. Earnest and Rick Swink simulate radiation treatments with flashing lights, while dimming and raising the lights to highlight different characters. Sound Designer Scott R. Bloom throws out medical sounds, such as heart rate monitors and emergency sounds. Wes Bedsworth and David Cooper project the lines of several Donne poems on screens around the stage.
Jacob Haythorn does a great job as director. The actors navigate the stage and each other expertly, and capture the right emotions at the right time, with a few moments of humor. Although this production deals with a difficult subject, with some heartrending scenes, it reflects the deep humanity and, indeed, wit at the heart of the play.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.
Wit plays through November 11, 2023, at The Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($26 for adults; $21 for seniors, students, and military), call the box office at 410-268-7373 or purchase online.
A PDF of the playbill for Wit is downloadable here.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional, though strongly encouraged, as long as the CDC rating for Anne Arundel County is not “High.”