Cedarville’s opening night performance of “Wit” March 31 left many members of the audience reflecting on the meaning of mortality, their priorities and the value of life.
“Wit” is set during the final hours of the life of Dr. Vivian Bearing (sophomore Merra Milender), distinguished professor of English, who is dying of stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer. Bearing recounts her story to the audience through a series of monologues and flashbacks, beginning with the initial diagnosis from her oncologist, Dr. Harvey Kelekian (sophomore Andrew Rarick). Dr. Kelekian then proposes an experimental chemotherapeutic treatment that consists of eight rounds of chemotherapy at full dosage.
Bearing relies on her intellect, mental toughness and the metaphysical poetry of John Donne to bring her comfort during her months of treatments and hospitalization. This dependence on intellect makes her the perfect counterpart to Dr. Kelekian’s intern, Jason Posner (sophomore Nathan Davis). A former student of Bearing, Posner credits her with sharpening his analytical skills, which he seems to value more than his bedside manner.
As the cancer progresses and the reality of her own death becomes clear, Bearing is forced to reexamine her priorities and finds that intellect and scholarship are above genuine human interaction. However, this doesn’t become clear to Bearing until she is in agonizing pain, alone, and wanting someone to show her kindness.
After every interaction with Posner, Bearing becomes more aware that she means nothing more to him than a research opportunity. Posner is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her tormented body alive if it continues to benefit the medical community.
Bearing’s attending nurse, Susie Monahan (junior Katie Gilbert), is the complete contrast of Posner. Monahan shows Bearing compassion in spite of her somewhat abrasive personality. Monahan’s friendship has a profound impact on Bearing as she approaches her final days.
At the surface, this play is an obvious critique of the medical community. The obsession of Davis’ character, Posner, with solving the puzzle of cancer can be seen in his cold, curt treatment of Bearing. He dutifully asks how she is feeling each day without showing any genuine concern for her well-being.
Monahan serves as the advocate for the patients. She views medicine as healing a person, not a way to advance her career. Gilbert’s calming stage presence as Monahan sets the audience at ease in the midst of a melancholic play.
On a much deeper level, “Wit” shows the audience the limits of knowledge and intellect and how authentic relationships can fill a void there.
Milender’s candor and sharp intensity perfectly embodied Bearing. Despite her frail appearance, dressed in two hospital gowns and head shaven, Milender possessed a commanding stage presence. She captivated the audience as the confident, steadfast English professor who transformed into a scared and vulnerable woman.
The “black box” theatre style in which “Wit” is performed pulls the audience into the story by making them a part of the scene. This set up allows Milender to speak directly to the audience, which makes every scene more intimate. The audience, then, is more a part of the story rather than mere spectators.
“Wit” is not a play for those who want only to be entertained. You may leave the play reflecting on your life, hopefully with a new perspective on the value of life and friendship.
“Wit” plays through April 10 in the DeVries Theater. Purchase tickets at the SSC Information Desk, by phone at 937-776-7787, or online at cedarville.edu/ticketinfo.
Emily Day is a junior journalism major and arts & entertainment editor for Cedars. She is an avid reader, runner and is a general Disney enthusiast.