by Shirley Lorraine
Elite elicits strong emotions
Disease and drama meet humor and humanity on the Elite Theater stage in their current offering of Wit by Margaret Edson. A powerful, evocative study of the meaning of life and getting a grip on mortality, Wit provides a raw look at a progression of aggressive stage IV cancer through the eyes and body of Dr. Vivian Bearing, an academic who has had a lifelong fascination with and passion for language. The one-act Pulitzer Prize winning work is based on the author’s own experience as a teacher and hospital worker.
As a university professor teaching poetry, Dr. Bearing explores the works of 16th century poet John Donne to illustrate the metaphysical struggle between what is and what might be. Donne is considered by many to be the pre-eminent representative of metaphysical poetry, perhaps even greater than William Shakespeare.
Through this exploration, Bearing seeks to keep her own mind stimulated and alive as she descends into the depths of her illness. After agreeing to participate in a research study of her ovarian cancer, she re-examines her own view of relationships, compassion and the need to reach out to others.
Directed by Christine Adams, the Elite production utilizes effective minimalistic staging to bring the audience into Dr. Bearing’s hospital environment.
Sindy McKay-Swerdlove is outstanding in her poignant performance as Dr. Bearing. At one point in her treatment, the character aptly states, she is “merely a dust jacket, a human specimen.” McKay-Swerdlove gives a solid, compelling performance in a very demanding role.
Research Fellow Dr. Jason Posner (Michael Adams), a former student of Dr. Bearing, displays focused detachment as he concentrates on the disease rather than the person with the disease. Amy Hagler as nurse Susie Monahan provides the compassionate contrast who listens to the patient and attempts to ease her anxiety as the disease progresses.
Scott Blanchard is Dr. Kelekian, Dr. Bearing’s oncologist who delivers the bad news. He, too, becomes detached as the cancer progresses. The moment at grand rounds where the doctors all talk around the patient is a harsh reminder of de-sensitization that can occur.
The cast is filled out by Theresa Secor, Benjamin Blonigan, Elixeo Flores and Rebecca Spagnolia who provide additional informative sequences.
Wit is not an easy, uplifiting play to watch but it is inspiring. The subject matter will hit close to home for many. I know it did me. I left the theater reflecting on several loved ones I have lost to cancer, pondering how I could have been more responsive at the time. The play points out the absolute need for human touch and making continual connection as human beings, especially through times of hardship. It makes one think. And that’s good theater.
With a recent change in direction and help from many benefactors, the Elite Theater is experiencing a rebirth. The upcoming season promises ambitious works as well as new challenges and opportunities including Open Mic Nights, special events and a Conservatory Program for teaching the theater arts to folks 15 and older.
Wit continues at the Elite Theater 2731 S. Victoria Ave, Oxnard through March 22. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 general, $17 for students, seniors and military. www.theElite.org, 805-483-5118.