The Colonial Players have never shied away from unusual plays or difficult topics. Their latest offering, “Wit,” written by Margaret Edson, is a bracing, funny, and heartbreaking look at one woman’s last days. Director Jacob Haythorn has produced an enthralling drama that takes us to the brink of despair, but stops short of taking us into it.
This play is all about the doctors, PhDs and MDs, and no extras are needed as the over-sized personalities circle the stage. The costumes are basic hospital gowns and scrubs. Likewise, the sets are bare bones—a table and a few crates serve as all the furniture throughout the play. The small stage suits the play well. It makes the material intimate and powerful as the actors speak to you from a few feet away.
Director Jacob Haythorn has produced an enthralling drama that takes us to the brink of despair, but stops short of taking us into it…handled with wit and style…surprising and uplifting.
Dr. Vivian Bearing, PhD, powerfully played by DonnaAnn Ward, has spent her entire life building an ivory tower around herself to keep the intellectually inferior at bay. She is smug to a fault about her chosen calling and an expert on the 17th century metaphysical poet, John Donne. Her students find her pedantic and cold as she prides herself on teaching one of the hardest classes at her university more than getting her students to appreciate the material. Spending her academic life studying the meaning of life, death, and God in the Holy Sonnets of Donne, she focuses on “Death Be Not Proud,” but misses his other offerings in “No Man Is An Island.” She is alone and friendless, an island in the sea of humanity around her.
When Dr. Bearing is diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer, she is forced to reckon with her long held beliefs. Ward has a daunting task in this play—she is always on stage, bald, and has to be increasingly sick—but she takes this role on like a boss.
Dr. Bearing meets her match in a set of comparably smug doctors who, like Bearing, prefer research to humanity. Her oncologist, Dr. Kelekian, well played by Joseph Brugh, is so familiar he makes you cringe. He is overly technical in his explanations and seems woefully unable to relate to the patient sitting before him on a personal level. He is a researcher and sees her as potential data.
Responsible for Bearing’s daily care, intern Jason Posner is uncomfortable touching her during physicals and has no bedside manner. He is the equivalent of Bearing in the medical world—self-congratulatory about his medical knowledge and completely uninterested in his patients as people. Dylan Roche as Jason is terrific at being hyper-focused on his research as he inadvertently insults his patient and shows his utter lack of understanding anything about humanity.
As Bearing becomes sicker and finally realizes she will not beat her illness, she begins to learn the life lessons that have eluded her until now. She longs for some kind of companionship and finds it in her caring and sensitive nurse, Susie, beautifully played by Joi Pride. She feels time slipping through her fingers and is reduced, day by day, into something she has never been—weak and needy. This is strong material, to be sure, but it is handled with wit and style. The ending is heartbreaking, but also surprising and uplifting. The audience is left with a lot to think about.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
“Wit” runs through November 11, 2023 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis, 108 East Street, Annapolis MD 21401. For more information and tickets, go online or call the Box Office at 410-268-7373, opt. 2. (Colonial Players will be donating $1 for every ticket sold to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.)