Delaware Theater Spotlight

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wit at UD's Resident Ensemble Players

No matter how smart or dim-witted you are, how tall or short you are, or even how talented you are—cancer does not discriminate. This is the lesson that Professor Vivian Bearing, played by Kathleen Pirkl Tague, has to learn. The esteemed 17th century John Donne scholar is diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer, and that is something she cannot intellectualize her way out of.

The play begins simply, with Tague on stage, barefoot, in just a dressing gown and a baseball cap. Throughout the play, Tague speaks directly to the audience, as though we were in one of her college lectures, teaching us the complexities about her cancer. She lets us know right off the bat that she knows what's going on, and that she is pretty sure that she dies at the end of this story. With stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer, it certainly won't be an easy ride.

The Resident Ensemble Players of the University of Delaware's production of Wit is extremely moving, and yet very funny. Tague's Dr. Vivian Bearing is the essence of everything you were terrified to have in a college professor—extremely hard to please, tough as nails, and impossible to read. When Dr. Bearing's world crumbles around her, it is a very humbling experience.

As the action moves into the hospital where Dr. Bearing receives her treatments, the stage transforms from a blank canvas to the bustling halls of a busy research hospital. Scenic designer Stefanie Hansen and sound designer Lindsay Jones have created a masterful atmosphere that makes you forget, if just for a moment, that you aren't in the halls of a hospital.

While most of our time is spent with Tague, we meet a few other characters in Vivian Bearing's life, most notably her doctor, Harvey Kelekian, played by Lee Ernst, and Dr. Jason Posner, played by Michael Gotch, the research fellow and former student of Tague's who is as obsessed with cancer cells as she is with the metaphysical romantic poems of John Donne.

The only character in Wit with any sort of warmth and kindness is the nurse Susie, played by Jasmine Bracey. The rest of the characters are designed to be harder, and Susie is left as Tague's only source of comfort, now that her career has essentially been taken away. Sanford Robbins' direction keeps the audience at arm's length. Tague's addressing the audience, telling us how she believes the story will end, and the quick pace of the action all work together to build this emotional wall. It's as if Robbins is telling us through Tague's performance that her struggle is not sad; but rather, it is brave, stubborn, and quite funny, at times.

Once again, the Resident Ensemble Players have presented a spectacular performance. It is moving, intellectual, and it will probably leave you wanting to read a few of John Donne's Holy Sonnets. Wit runs about 100 minutes with no intermission and has brief female nudity. Wit runs at the University of Delaware in the Roselle Center until May 10. For tickets, call 302-831-2204 or visit

Posted at 4:39pm on April 29, 2014 by

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