The current show at MMAS by New England Repertory Company is "Wit", the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer prize for drama. Margaret Edison's powerful script examines what makes life worth living through her exploration of one of existence's unifying experiences, mortality, while she also probes the vital importance of human relationships. The action of the play takes place during the final hours of Dr. Vivian Bearing, an English professor dying of ovarian cancer. She has always lived a life of the mind. Ironically, the doctors at the hospital are interested in her research value and tend to ignore humanity. Gradually, she realizes she would prefer kindness over intellectualism.She recalls her agreeing to 8 rounds of full doses of chemo and reflects on her life through the intricacies of English language especially the use of wit in the metaphysical poems of John Donne. A sympathetic nurse shows up and tells Vivian of the DNR option, do not resuscitate, in case of a severe decline in her condition. Director Mike Kiernan takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as Vivian's story unfolds. He obtains terrific performances from his hardworking cast and a tour de force performance by Dayenne Walters, the leading lady who wins a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the show.
The play pits two opposing viewpoints against each other. The cold detached clinical observation versus raw human emotion on the other. Dayenne plays Vivian superbly from start to finish, never leaving the stage. Her reactions and line delivery are dynamite. Her journey as Vivian discovers neither science nor her keen intellect can save her from this terminal illness. She elicits tears and laughter in all the right spots. Brava. Jeff Williams plays Harvey Kelekian, the doctor who delivers her prognosis. She understands that she is in dire straits. Jeff also plays her father in a short scene where she is reading about a bunny rabbit.
Other standout scenes include the two scenes with her mentor Dr. Ashford. Playing this role is Beth Goldman who is superb as this hard-hearted mentor who berates Vivian's writing ability in the first scene and later in the show reads a children's story of a rabbit returning home and encourages Vivian to let go of life and go home. Rafael Marinho captures the cold behavior of a doctor who is only interested in his research. He plays Jason, Vivian's internist who wants to resuscitate her. Rafael tries to save her life even when she signed the DNR form. He was her former student with sharp analytical skills but has a poor bedside manner. The sympathetic nurse Susie tells her about DNR option. Natalie Hebert delivers a compassionate and empathetic performance. Susie tries to make Vivian comfortable in her final hours.So for a stunning and thought provoking show, be sure to catch "Wit" by New England Repertory Company at MMAS. Tell them Tony sent you.