It seems as if with each season, Hub Theatre Company of Boston ratchets up the level of professionalism of their productions another notch. They have reached a new height with their current offering - the brilliant and sobering Pulitzer Prize-winning one act play "Wit" by Margaret Edson. Ms. Edson drew her inspiration for the subject matter of this drama from her years as an administrator at a cancer treatment facility.
The protagonist, Dr. Vivian Bearing, is a tenured professor of Literature who has just been diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic ovarian cancer. In her terse words: "There is no Stage Five!" She is dying, and she conducts herself on stage as if the audience were one of her college classes in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne - shattering the fourth wall with regularity. The playwright is not simply looking at death in contradistinction to life, but she is examining many related nuanced topics. What happens at the end of life when one has lived in isolation from true human touch? At what point does intellectual examination of issues of life and death become insufficient? How does one introduce emotion when it has been denied for much of one's life. What happens when one is forced to look up from the level of poring over minutia and is confronted with the need to examine the whole forest. How can medical care for the dying be made more humane when researchers and many clinicians are hard-wired to look only at data and symptoms - not at the whole person who is in front of them, but is virtually invisible. What impact can the genuine human touch of just one or two individuals make to a person who is living a parched life in a desert of isolation? How do we think about and talk honestly about end of life choices? Do we opt for last ditch efforts at resuscitation or order the withholding heroic measures, and gracefully accept the end?
The structure of the play allows the brilliant Liz Adams, as Dr. Bearing, to examine all of these issues as we follow the arc of the progression of her disease and of the extremely aggressive and pernicious chemotherapy regimen that her doctors impose upon her "for research purposes." We see her "bearing" change from that of a detached academic to one of a hysterical dying lonely person screaming in agony as the cancer has metastasized to her bones and beyond. This performance by Ms. Adams is breathtaking in its depth and scope. It is one of the most memorable performances of this season, and is not to be missed. (Only three performances remain - this Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.)
|Liz Adams as Dr. Vivian Bearing|
"Wit" by Margaret Edson
Hub Theatre Company of Boston
Through November 19th
Photo by Tim Gurczak
- Robert Bonotto is excellent as the senior researcher and oncologist, Dr. Kelekian, as well as in the role of the emotionally detached father of a young Vivian in a flashback scene.
- Blyss Cleveland, Michael Lin, Albert Scerbo and Grace Trapnell play the roles of several emotionally detached medical "care givers." They often act as if Vivian is not even there, or that caring for her is a huge burden and inconvenience.
- Lauren Elias very sympathetically plays nurse Susie Monahan, whose presence in Vivian's life is like a lifeline of emotional connection and caring. When things begin to go downhill medically, Vivian asks Susie plaintively, "Will you still take care of me?"
- Tim Hoover plays Dr. Posner, a young cancer researcher who is forced to put in some clinical hours to satisfy institutional requirements. He is emotionally tone deaf and brain dead. He is a former poetry student of Dr. Baring, and this backstory complicates the level of uneasiness that Vivian feels when he conducts a ham-handed pelvic exam. Mr. Hoover is very effective in portraying the very epitome of clinical detachment and dehumanizing of a patient.
- Dayenne C. B. Walters is warm and wonderful as Dr. Ashford, Vivian's Ph.D. thesis advisor. We see her in flashback as a cold and nitpicking about arcane examples of punctuation in Donne's poems. But in a penultimate scene, she sneaks into Vivian's hospital room when Dr. Bearing is nearing the end. She is scared. Dr. Ashford climbs onto the bed and reads a children's book. This scene provides a tie back to Vivian's childhood when she taught herself to read a Beatrix Potter book as her father sat engrossed in reading the newspaper. Emotional distance gives way to emotional surrender as Vivian and Dr. Ashford embrace. It is a powerful moment in this landmark play.
Hub Theatre Website
E.M. Ashford, D.Phil - Dayenne Walters
Harvey Kelekian, MD / Vivian's Father - Robert Bonotto
Jason Posner MD - Tim Hoover
Susie Monahan, RN, BSN - Lauren Elias
Ensemble-Blyss Cleveland, Michael Lin,
Albert Scerbo, Grace Trapnell
Production Associate - George Page
Assistant Director - Emma Putnam
Stage Manager - Caitlin Mason
Assistant Stage Manager - Kristen Heider
Set Design - JP Pizzuti
Master Carpenter - Brian Melcher
Prop Design - Kelly Smith
Lighting Design - Chris Bocchiaro
Associate Lighting Designer - Jeremy Stein
Sound/Projection Design - Deirdre Benson
Costume Design - Nancy Ishihara
Medical Consultant - Mark Estano
Poster Design- Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia
Promotional Photography - Tim Gurczak