Written by American playwright Margaret Edson, the play opened off-Broadway in 1998 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999. This is the first and only play written by the author.
English professor Vivian Bearing (Megan C. C. Walker) is dying of stage-four ovarian cancer. During her final hours, she reflects on her life and ultimate death through the metaphysical poetry of 17th-century poet John Donne. Throughout the play, Vivian recites Donne’s famous sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud.”
The term “wit” refers to intelligence as defined in the Renaissance period.
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Through flashbacks, Vivian relives her experiences as a child, student and teacher. She recalls her childhood passion for language and the impact of her college mentor, E. M. Ashford (Rosh Wright).
Vivian also remembers her own tough teaching practices and how harshly she treated her students. For her, the pursuit of knowledge always trumped kindness.
These reflections of Vivian’s past become intertwined with her painful cancer journey, which begins with the dire diagnosis by oncologist Dr. Harvey Kelekian (Gregg Wolff) and leads to an experimental chemotherapy treatment in a teaching hospital.
At the hospital, Vivian is treated by a young oncology research fellow, Dr. Jason Posner (Gregory Gorrindo), who took her class on John Donne. The former teacher soon recognizes that her callousness toward her students is similar to her physician’s lack of empathy toward research patients. Is it possible that feelings are as important as words?
Vivian eventually learns compassion and grace through the kindness of her oncology nurse, Susie Monahan (Kerry DiMaggio).
Walker is brilliant as Vivian, portraying the character with a fierce intensity, sarcastic wit and genuine thoughtfulness.
As the young doctor, Gorrindo perfectly blends a naivety about the human condition with reckless arrogance. DiMaggio shines with sincerity and strength as the voice of humanity, while Wolff and Wright give solid performances as Vivian’s doctor and mentor.
The rest of the acting ensemble is strong and supportive of the central characters. Playing clinical fellows/technicians are Bobby Kendrick, Arisa Bega, Felicia Hall and Megan Schreiber.
“Wit” is exquisitely directed by Kelly Fidopiastis.
The simple set by David Linfield consists only of a patient room in the hospital. Screens on each side of the stage project the wording of Donne’s poem as it is read by Vivian. Spotlights are used for flashbacks, illuminating various corners of the stage with key moments of Vivian’s life.
Lighting and sound design is by Kevin Harris. Pam Hester is stage manager.
Randal Sumabat’s costumes feature medical attire such as scrubs and lab coats. Throughout the performance, Vivian is dressed in a basic hospital gown, which adds to the stark reality of her humility as a patient.
Don’t shy away from this intense and haunting subject matter. “Wit” is not a play about dying; it is about embracing life and finding humanity within our hearts.
7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through May 15
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$15 to $30
805-786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org