note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark
by Margaret Edson
Directed by Derek Anson Jones
Original Music & Sound Design by David Van Tieghem
Scenic Design by Myung Hee Cho
Costume Design by Ilona Somogyi
Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski
Wigs by Paul Huntley
Production Manager Kai Brothers/Gene O'Dovan
Production Stage Manager Katherine Lee Boyer
Vivian Bearing...................................Judith Light
Harvey Kelekian, M.D./Mr. Bearing...Brian Smiar
Jason Posner, M.D.........................Daniel Sarnelli
Susan Monahan, R.N., B.S.N. ...........Lisa Tharps
E. M. Ashford, D.Phil. ....................Diane Kagan
Hope Albrecht, Malcolm Barrett, Laura Jean Kirk, Christopher Swift
The most striking image in this uncompromising short play is those clinically clean hospital curtains that whisper swiftly along their ceiling-tracks to give patients privacy while they undress, or to "isolate" beds. They are walls inside which battles to the death are won, and lost. These walls hang a foot from the floor, yet they are as impenetrable as bricks and mortar, for they represent the walls the patient --- a tirelessly passionate academic fixated on the poetry of John Donne --- has built, keeping her from any human interactions whatsoever.
Reduced to nothing but her resume and an ovarian tumor the size of a grapefruit, she demands, with a scathing wit, a human respect she has granted no one her entire life. The other dominant image in this life stripped to essentials is the red baseball-cap she uses to hide a head shaved bald by chemotherapy. What's killing her, she knows, is not the cancer, but the extreme experimental therapies that might just possibly save her life. And nearly everyone she meets --- the doctor (Brian Smiar), who doubles as her remote father; his "fellow" (Daniel Sarnelli) who found a course in bedside-manner "A bore"; and the students (browbeaten interns on rounds, doubling as her own browbeaten students of poetry) --- treats her, clinically, as a subject for experiment.
Judith Light does a magnificent job of bringing this astringent Everywoman raspingly to life. What humanizes her is not so much her imperious single-minded commitment to literary scholarship as the vividly sarcastic wit with which she reacts to the incredible clinical indignities of the medical establishment. As she endures her cancer and its deadly cure she comes back again and again to John Donne's sonnet beginning "Death be not proud" and, her indignity intact, she will not go gentle into that good night.
There are two rays of hope in this powerfully intense play: Diane Kagan plays her first literary mentor, arrived too late to soften these last days, and Lisa Tharps is a night-nurse sharing this proud teacher's only twinge of hopeless humanity.
The play is short, but will not seem so, relentless in its power, and tightly, movingly engrossing every step of the way. The Wilbur stage feels as though it was built to house just this sort of spare, uncompromising personal drama. It is a joy to see it put to the job it does best. This is unforgettable theater.