The Cedarville University Theatre Department’s spring production “Wit” shares one woman’s journey after she is diagnosed with cancer. “Wit” will be performed March 31-April 10 in the DeVries Theatre and broaches topics such as philosophy, ethics and relationships.
Vivian Bearing, played by sophomore theatre major Merra Milender, is a scholar of metaphysical poetry – poetry dealing with abstract concepts such as death and the afterlife. In the beginning of the play, Bearing is suddenly diagnosed with cancer, which drastically changes her life.
“Metaphysical poetry is a big theme of this play,” said director Diane Merchant, professor of theatre at Cedarville. “It’s very ironic that she has been a world-renowned scholar of metaphysical poetry and then has to grapple with some of the same issues that are in those poems.”
Throughout the play, Bearing interacts with all sorts of people, including doctors, students and friends. It is her interactions with these people that help her understand that there is more to life than scholarship.
“She recognizes what truly matters, and it’s real, genuine human interaction,” Milender said. “She recognizes that scholarly studies are important, but connecting with other people as human beings trumps that, especially at the end of your life.”
As Bearing reflects on her interaction with other people, she thinks back to her career as a professor and scholar. At the same time, she deals with doctors that don’t always interact with her in the way they should. It is through these glimpses of Bearing’s past and her current state that the audience can see another major theme emerging.
“I think one of the biggest themes is kindness,” said Megan Howell, junior theatre major and stage manager and set designer for “Wit.”
As Bearing thinks about the way she has treated others, she realizes how vitally important kindness is to the way people interact.
One place she encounters this is in the medical community.
“(The play) is, to some degree, a bit of an indictment of the medical community and how those especially involved with research can come to view patients as subjects of research more than human beings in need of healing,” Merchant said.
Since the play follows the story of a cancer patient, it contains a great deal of medical content. Much of the stage time is devoted to Bearing’s interaction with her doctors.
Dr. Dennis Sullivan, professor of pharmacy practice and director of Cedarville’s Center for Bioethics, served as the medical consultant for the play. He will be especially involved with a showing specifically for Cedarville’s pharmacy students, which will be followed with a discussion of bioethics.
Cast members of “Wit” had to adjust their acting style to reflect the themes and philosophical positions that the play is designed to emit. The play is designed to be a raw, authentic portrayal of a cancer patient, so the acting is primarily about emotion and human interaction. The naturalistic tendencies add even more emphasis on interaction.
Two philosophies in particular affect the acting and staging for the play: naturalism and magical realism. Merchant said that under naturalism, actors are to relate to each other as realistically as possible, and magical realism deals with the supernatural.
“It can seem like they’re opposites,” Merchant said, “naturalism rooted in science and magical realism rooted in the miraculous, but it’s amazing in life how those two collide.”
These philosophies affect the acting in “Wit.” For instance, the whispers in this play are not stage whispers, which are louder than a normal whisper. Since naturalism demands realistic presentation, the actors will literally whisper, even though it may be difficult for the audience to hear.
The format in which “Wit” will be presented is different from this year’s previous productions, as “Wit” takes on a “black box” style. This means that the audience will be seated on three sides of the stage, as was done in “Doubt” last spring. With this setup, actors are very close to their audience, and they are always facing away from a portion of the audience.
Merchant said she encourages the audience to consider the impact that end-of-life circumstances have on relationships.
“What happens to us as we approach the end of our lives, and does that change the way we think about relating to others?” Merchant said.
Vivian Bearing will consider that question in “Wit,” which opens 8 p.m. March 31 in the DeVries Theatre. Purchase tickets at the SSC Information Desk, by phone at 937-766-7787, or online at cedarville.edu/ticketinfo.
Michael Shawn Carbaugh II is a junior music composition major and arts & entertainment writer for Cedars. He enjoys all kinds of writing, whether it be with musical notes or descriptive words.