by Nancy Holley
Special KRL coupon code at the end of this article.
Wit, Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, is the next offering by the Visalia Players at the Ice House theatre. Wit, through its leading character Vivian Bearing, describes a journey of questioning a lifetime of decisions when there is literally no redemption from the path set. Fortunately, for most of us, if we take the time to reflect on our humanity or lack thereof, we have the opportunity to make changes in our lives.
The play opens with Vivian’s diagnosis of Stage IV ovarian cancer. Debbie Walker, who portrays Vivian, describes her “as a highly educated woman who has hidden behind her education to avoid personal contact.” The story of Vivian’s journey and Walker’s desire to perform the role are personal to the actor. She recently saw a family member through a successful cancer journey.
Following Vivian’s diagnosis, Dr. Kelekian (Tom Nance) wants her to participate in an experimental treatment program. According to Nance, “Kelekian is head of research, very clinical, and looking for scientific answers. He looks at Vivian as a research project rather than a person.” Nance believes that the playwright is using his character to help Vivian see herself. “Many of her problems are mirrored in the doctor.”
Having little chance for survival, Vivian agrees to the treatment, hoping that the result of her experience might help others in the future. During the course of her treatment, she reflects on past actions and their consequences. Her only visitor at the hospital is E. M. Ashford (Debra Hansen), an academic who was Vivian’s mentor during her doctoral journey.
Hansen notes that Ashford, now in her 80s, “is probably the closest bond Vivian has had in her life. Her family was cold. Thus, Vivian became an achiever academically.” As Hanson continued to consider her character, she added, “Ashford’s life involved her heart as well as her brain. Ashford is the only one to give Vivian real comfort on her death bed.”
Paradoxically, one of the research assistants in the experimental treatment program, Dr. Jason Posner (Peter McGuire), was formerly one of Vivian’s students. “The role reversal is a confusing situation for both of them,” McGuire stated. “Posner doesn’t quite know how to handle it.”
In the flashbacks, Vivian reveals her coldness and inhumanity. In the present, she can see how her actions have led to her aloneness, her isolation. “We want the audience to think about what they have done with their lives and would they have done it differently with regard to contacts and softness,” Walker said.
Walker’s comment is echoed by Director Jennifer Toledo. “I always choose shows that may change the audience. I want people to be touched, moved, and leave a bit different than when they arrived.”
When asked about the uniqueness of the play, Assistant Director Lindsey Surratt commented, “She [Vivian] talks to the audience and is constantly explaining what is going on with her and what has happened in her life. That makes the play very personal with the audience.”
The cast and directors agree that the play is not about death, but about life. Nance noted, “Cancer is just the vehicle the playwright chose for discussing life and death and the importance of people—of all of us.” Toledo stated, “It is a wonderful story with moments of humor. I want people to not be afraid to see it because of its serious aspects. The journey is presented in a beautiful way.”
Wit opens at the Ice House Theatre at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 3, 2017, and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 3/3, 3/4, 3/10, 3/11, 3/17, and 3/18, and matinees at 2 p.m. on 3/5, 3/12, and 3/19. NOTE: This play contains adult content and language.
For more information about the Visalia Community Players and to purchase tickets, check out their website and KRL’s article about VCP. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 734-3900. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit the Visalia Arts Consortium website.
Check out even more local theatre reviews & articles in our Arts & Entertainment section!
To purchase two tickets for the price of one, enter KRLWIT in the Have a code? box on the Buy/Redeem Tickets Reservation page via the Players website.