Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Wit
A Public Fit Theatre Company
Review by Mary LaFrance


Tina Rice
Photo by Richard Brusky
Death, be not proud. John Donne's famous sonnet takes center stage in Wit, Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, currently being staged by A Public Fit, one of Nevada's best professional theatre companies. Whatever you do, don't miss it; this production is jaw-droppingly good.

The lead character, Dr. Vivian Bearing, is a devoted scholar of 17th century poetry. Relentless in her pursuit of excellence, this iron lady rose to the pinnacle of her profession through unwavering dedication to intellectual achievement, which she demands not only of herself but also of her students; kindness and compassion are simply not in her vocabulary. Bearing's storied career comes crashing to a halt when she is diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Ever the star pupil, she proudly agrees to subject herself to an aggressive course of chemotherapy which few patients can endure. This brings joy to her physicians, who are researchers first and caregivers a distant second. A lifelong dedication to cold intellectualism has steeled her for this experience, or so she thinks.

Edson's writing is brilliant. Bearing intellectualizes every aspect of her treatment, attempting to distance herself from the miseries and indignities to which she is subjected, while acknowledging that she has willingly allowed herself to be objectified—a human subject in a specimen jar. Much of the play is a monologue, in which Bearing breaks the fourth wall to provide ironic commentary. The surrealism is heightened by the hospital's PA system (nicely voiced by Brandi Blackman), through which the routine paging of doctors is coyly interspersed with John Donne quotes and assorted meta-commentaries, all delivered with a sameness of tone that provokes mental double-takes.

If a play about a cancer patient undergoing debilitating chemotherapy sounds rather static, A Public Fit's production is anything but. Under co-directors Ann-Marie Pereth and Joseph Kucan, the stage whirls with activity, a perfect metaphor for Bearing's carefully constructed life as it spins out of her control. The meticulous staging reflects A Public Fit's distinctive knack for dramatic choreography—from the physicians flying in and out on their castered office chairs to the marching squad of medical interns on their grand rounds to the spinning and shoving of Bearing's hospital bed as she experiences waves of nausea and disorientation.

Pereth and Kucan have assembled an excellent cast. As Bearing, Tina Rice is a revelation. Her performance is riveting; you literally cannot take your eyes off her. Every word she speaks is powerful and penetrating. She engages the audience with direct eye contact just as Bearing might zero in on her squirming students. In the flashbacks, Rice adroitly shifts from adult to child to eager young graduate student and back again.

Marcus Weiss gives a crisp and finely calibrated performance as Dr. Harvey Kelekian, the physician/scholar who conducts Bearing's chemotherapy as his gleeful grand experiment. So great is his alacrity that he is practically licking his lips as he explains to Bearing his proposed course of treatment. Yet he keeps his demeanor professional, if only to set an example for the overeager young physicians in his tow. Weiss neither overplays nor underplays his hand; he brings a special electricity to the stage.

Andrew Calvert also gives a strong performance, as Kelekian's young research fellow Dr. Jason Posner, an enthusiastic scientist whose tunnel vision makes him a spectacularly inept clinician. (Not surprisingly, he views mere clinicians with disdain.) He fumbles hilariously when faced with performing a pelvic exam on Bearing, his former professor. As her health declines, his inability to connect with patients on a human level becomes painfully clear.

Sabrina Cofield has a warm and natural stage presence as Susie Monahan, Bearing's primary nurse and the only medical professional who treats her as a human being. And Barbara King does a fine turn as Bearing's mentor and idol, Dr. E.M. Ashford.

Eric A. Koger's set design is minimalist yet powerful, with stark white walls that convey the hospital's sterility and double as classroom whiteboards; they also accommodate projections of literary quotes that complement the story. Overhead, the numbingly white ceiling tiles and recessed institutional lighting are equally devoid of warmth. In the midst of this coldness, Elizabeth Kline's lighting highlights the vitality of Bearing's fight for life, or, in the alternative, an unaccustomed wholeness.

Wit continues through November 19, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm) at The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Pkwy. (at E. Fremont St.), Las Vegas, NV. Stay after the show for The Buzz, a discussion with the cast and creative team. For tickets ($30 general admission, $25 seniors and students) or further information, go to www.apublicfit.org.

Cast:
Vivian Bearing, PhD: Tina Rice
Harvey Kelekian, MD & Mr. Bearing: Marcus Weiss
Jason Posner, MD: Andrew Calvert
Susie Monahan, RN, BSN: Sabrina Cofield
E.M. Ashford, DPhil: Barbara King
Ensemble: Jamie Ahlborn, Jonathan Anders, JoAnna Garcia, Thaisa Monteiro, Jacob Sidhom, Galina Vasileva
The Voice of the Hospital: Brandi Blackman

Additional Creative: Costume design by Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova; sound design by John McClain.


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