John Donne scholar Vivian Bearing treats her university students with cold, callous detachment. When the tables are turned and she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she finds that same kind of cold, callous detachment from her doctors rather disturbing.
The play is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit, by Margaret Edson, now at the Theatre Factory.
Yes, Wit is a play about cancer. It is also about redemption. And along the way, Edson has wisely peppered it with humor. Bearing's razor-sharp sarcasm, coupled with the many absurdities she faces, leads to much laughter.
Director David Taylor Little has done a masterful job. The production moves effortlessly between locations, and he finds every laugh as well as every moment of pathos the play provides. Little also designed the set, and his clever use of the Theatre Factory space adds to fluidity of the show.
Mary Schafer Masterman gives a tour-de-force portrayal of Vivian Bearing. She plays the complete arc of her character to the hilt, ranging from her stinging observations, full of bravado, at the play's opening to the raw, unfettered emotions of the play's end. Masterman is spell-binding. It is a performance not to be missed.
As the young Dr. Posner, Tyson Sears brings an arrogance and an air of self-importance that are perfect for the role — like a little boy in a white coat, pretending to be a doctor. Jillian Vitko is charming as Susie, the nurse, and the only medical professional who shows any compassion or humanity toward Bearing. Bill Crean gives Dr. Kelekian, cancer researcher, the ideal nonchalance toward his patient — only the success of his experimental treatment matters.
Linda Stayer has what has to be one of the most emotional scenes in Wit. She plays Bearing's former teacher. Hearing that Bearing is gravely ill, Ashford visits her former student — and is shocked by what she encounters. Her response is heart-breaking. Have tissues handy.
This production is well worth the drive to Trafford. And the new Trafford bridge is open!
Pittsburgh's chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition will provide outreach after each Sunday matinee.