Truthfully, I have been avoiding Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Wit, for the same reason I waited until just recently to watch Schindler’s List. I thought it would be too hard to watch, because you know, cancer is the ultimate downer. Well, I finally decided to suck it up and do the hard stuff and made it to see the Texas Rep’s production of Wit.
It takes no such stamina to get through this play which is as funny as it is poignant. Edson’s play traces the last year of professor Vivian Bearing, a professor of 17th century poetry who specializes in the holy sonnets of John Donne. Does, “Death be not proud” ring a bell? It doesn’t for much of the staff at the hospital where Vivian finds herself after being diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. The colliding of the clinical and the poetic worlds make a rich soup here. Vivian’s deconstruction of the dreaded question, “How are you doing today,” provides fodder for much analysis, contemplation, and endearing comedy.
Pamela Vogel is positively luminous as Vivian and reason alone to hop on I-45 and head north. Vogel captures Vivian’s relentless intelligence in her razor-sharp performance. The play may be heavy, but she’s light, charming, and portrays each deepening dilemma as if it were some kind of cosmic puzzle. Vogel takes us on Vivian’s journey with the same kind of transcendence Donne employed. Justin O’Brien is convincing as Vivian’s former student turned oncology researcher, and Jan Saenz nails the chipper nurse, Susie.
Julia Traber stays close to spare nature of the material, letting Vivian have the full stage for her well lived and ultimate death. Gregg Buck’s sleek hospital room, along with Danielle Almeida Wilson’s lighting, recreate a sterile hospital environment. Hardly a place to discuss Donne, nevermind die.
This is a splendid production of a great play—be a grown-up and go see it.
Wit continues until April 13. Call 281-583-7573 or visit www.texreptheatre.org.