Sometimes what a wounded soul truly needs is not the mind-bending allure of a logical puzzle – the slithering, cerebral charm of taut, mental gymnastics. What it then craves is a tart popsicle shared with an amiable stranger in the cool embrace of deepest night, or a silly children’s story read by the caring voice of an old friend, with an even kinder heart.
But we lose ourselves so immensely in philosophy, in research, in the pursuit of wit, that we forget our humanity and the importance of that kindness – of that soft, intangible, yet undeniably vital human connection.
The sorrowed soul calls for simplicity.
These are the notions explored by Margaret Edson in her Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Wit.”
And these are also precisely the impressions left by the production of this play (quite cleverly titled “W;t,” as a few instances address the questionable punctuation of the conclusive lines of “Death Be Not Proud” ) by Nicu’s Spoon.
It follows the end of an eight-month-long cancer treatment of Professor Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., a John Donne scholar, with intermingled flashbacks throughout. A cold intellectual, Professor Bearing favors the metaphysical poet, and a calculating approach to living. She measures life and death by the words of his sonnets; she learned the definition of “soporific” as a seven-year-old and instantly fell in love with words.
During her stay, she is treated by doctors Harvey Kelekian and Jason Posner, the latter of whom is a resident and a former student of hers.
This brilliant play is so blessed with subtle foils and intricacies that even the experience of simply observing its players is in itself a remarkable exercise in intellect and emotion. The doctors, like the protagonist, place research above the need for kindness. Professor Bearing’s condition presents a wonderful opportunity for additional information on advanced ovarian cancer, though there was never a chance of their arguably brutal treatments presenting a cure. She understands this, however – she “read between the lines” – but as a devotee to all that is intellectual, she did not protest.
She is also treated by Susan Monahan, however, a kindly nurse who never liked poetry and does not understand the advanced vocabulary so embraced by the strict teacher. Yet she is also the only main character to truly understand emotion – to react with compassion and warmth.
The roles within this gloriously complex play require heroic stamina and an arsenal of talent, as each scene is uniquely intense, whether through reflective philosophizing, soothing bonding or tumultuous drama. The respective roles absolutely have to be handled with the necessary professionalism to be effective.
Under the superb direction of Alvaro Sena, they were executed with such passion and grace that this mammoth of a play came alive and was instantly felt; it was pensive, and heartbreaking, and most of all, witty.
Professor Bearing was portrayed by the overwhelmingly talented Stephanie Barton-Farcas. A powerhouse performer, her versatile and immensely magnetic stage presence consistently evoked rapt attention. This is truly a woman who deserves to be seen anywhere, though preferably with the largest exposure, since justice demands that a gift of her magnitude be witnessed. Through remarkably expressive eyes, she teased and taunted and titillated her interlocutors; but in the end, she simply captivated the audience. Each moment felt astoundingly authentic, and each dryly clever line, decidedly humorous.
She was at times matched, however. A particularly striking scene containing the aforementioned popsicles took place between her and nurse Susie (Rebecca Challis). Barton-Farcas’ callous wit was beautifully contrasted by Challis’ warmth. The gentle, genuinely caring demeanor of the woman lent a marvelous sheen of pathos to the highly cerebral production. With a warmly-accented, soothing voice, Challis proudly carried the torch as the heart of “W;t.”
Perhaps Professor Bearing had been correct in her final assertion, serenely declared with a touch of surprised awe: “Now is the time for simplicity. Now is the time for – dare I say it – kindness.”
Photo by Nicu’s Spoon