By Margaret Edson
Directed by Derek Bertelson
Produced by AstonRep Theatre Company
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
Powerful drama of death and the human spirit
Wit contains a terrific performance by Alexandra Bennett as the terminally ill English professor who specializes in the poetry of John Donne. From the opening monologue, we learn that Vivian Bearing, dressed in a hospital gown and toting an IV bottle is dying of stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer. Her story is told through flashback, flash forwards and more flashbacks. Vivian using gallows humor, assesses her life and her work while her cancer quickly consumes her.
During this 90 minute one act, we learn loads about Vivian’s work as a scholar specializing in the metaphysical writings of John Donne, some about the experimental treatment of advanced cancer but little about Vivian’s life. We know she is 50 years old and a touch scholar who demanded much from her students but few hits as to her private life. We see that she is a strong willed and brave soul that decided to go through the painful eight -step cancer treatment with the knowledge that it was too late to cure her but the hospital would appreciate her being a research patient.
While the performance by Alexandra Bennett, as Vivian was most effective, I did find the nature of the work quite morbid even with the dark humor and the bravery from Bennett. I do question why a person who knows its too late to save themselves from death would agree to suffer needless pain, not once but eight times as the chemotherapy is extremely debilitating? Why would she agree to spend her last few months on earth suffering such pain? Most folks would want to be sedated as they avoid needless suffering,especially when a treatment has no immediate value to them.
AstonRep Theatre Company’s choice to mount this depressing play speaks to their determination to produce worth art pieces is laudable but I wonder who would want to see such a downer? It is not a date night show nor one for seniors. And if I didn’t respect AstonRep’s past work, I’d probably pass on seeing Wit since the subject matter, death, doesn’t appeal to me. The performance by Alexandra Bennett is worth the admission price.
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-828-9129,www.astonrep.com, Tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3:30 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermittent.