The Hypocrites Touch an Emotional Nerve
It’s one thing to hear about cancer stories It’s a whole different feeling when someone has created a theater piece that grabs us firmly to experience it.
Margaret Edson’s drama, WIT, is meant to make us feel the effects of stage four ovarian cancer as lead character Vivian Bearing is experiencing it. It’s not a survival story, but one that allows us to gain empathy for those going through this hardship.
Vivian Bearing has a PhD in literature, specifically the poems of John Dunne. The play starts as Vivian is in her last moments alive. She has only two hours to tell us about her life and how cancer has affected it. The story then recaps the prior eight months as Vivian undergoes an experimental and powerful chemotherapy treatment
Great Character Building & Set Design
There are both scenes in the hospital and Vivian’s flashbacks .Through these flashbacks—from her childhood, to her student years, and later her teaching lectures— we see how Vivian became the person she is. Lisa Tejero does an incredible job switching acting styles as she portrays the different life stages of Vivian.
The technical elements are also great in their simplicity. The performance space is set up like theater in the round with audience seating on all four sides. It’s cold and gray just like a hospital. Set pieces are rolled on and off as needed. Lighting and projections are used to create x-rays and MRI scans. The sound elements are used as ambient noises as well as piercing sounds to reflect pain. All of these are well-balanced and serve the purpose to make us feel what Vivian is feeling.
Losing Human Touch
One theme of WIT is emotional connections-- and what happens if we don’t have them. We see Vivian’s detachment through her interactions with others. In one scene, she doesn’t grant a paper extension to a student. Then later, she is saying she doesn’t have anyone to call to visit her in the hospital As her cancer develops, and as she stays longer in the hospital, she begins searching for connections she never had valued before.
Nurses as the Advocates
Eventually Vivian does find connection with Susie, her nurse, played by Adithi Chandrashekar. Vivian talks with Susie about how she knows she most likely will not survive this treatment. Susie then outlines the outcomes should Vivian’s heart stop—she can either be resuscitated or not.
The moment Vivian decides she’d rather let her heart just stop, followed by the moments when she’s experiencing pain, we understand why this is her choice. These moments are powerful precisely because they aren’t overdramatized.
Following her story throughout the play, we come to care for Vivian. We empathize with her.
Then, in the end, when the doctors are resuscitating Vivian, we want to join Susie and tell them to stop!! But they aren’t listening to Susie. We feel frustrated. We want it all to stop.
SPOILER ALERT—Even though they manage to get Vivian’s heart started again, she doesn’t Triumphant, as as a single spotlight shines on her, Vivian then she rips her hospital bracelet off.
WIT intimately shows the struggle of cancer patients and their emotional turmoil. The Hypocrites did a fantastic job with their casting choices and design elements to vividly create the experience of a cancer patient for us to experience.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through February 19th
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 3:00pm
The Den Theatre
1333 N Milwaukee Ave,
Chicago, IL 60622