Actor's portrayal in 'Wit' stoic, strong and bold

Heidi Wicks
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Literary scholar Dr. Vivan Bearing (Wendi Smallwood) has been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

A fiercely proud, dangerously dedicated and sadistically unapologetic professor of English, she is forced to turn to the only thing she finds comfort in upon receipt of her deathly diagnosis - the metaphysical poetry of 17th-century author, John Donne.

Throughout the two-hour, one-act play, the audience is her class, as she delivers her final lectures and comes to terms with her death.

There are supporting characters - her physician, Dr. Harvey Kelekian (Steve O'Connell), his intern Dr. Jason Posner (Edmund Stapleton), her nurse Susie Monahan (Jessie Power), her undergraduate academic advisor, Dr. E.M. Ashford (Frankie O'Neill). And Newfoundland's version of James Lipton (Inside the Actor's Studio), Dr. Gordon Jones, makes a cameo as Bearing's father in a flashback scene.

Jone's biography states that, "In 'Wit,' he utters 48 words in 10 lines, which he thinks he will be able to retain." He delivered those 48 words with understated grace in a role that anchors around choosing just the right words. And that seems to be a role made just for him.

Stapleton's performance as the arrogant and cocky intern who once took Bearing's class is appropriately hateful, yet charming.

Although he's a jackass, one can't help but be impressed with his brain power. He dismisses literature as something he did because "You have to be well-rounded to get into medical school," yet her course resonated with him, and instilled in him a deep appreciation for the complexity and intricacy of poetry.

She later realizes that his hunger for constant knowledge is also one of her own character traits.

The two sometimes forsake kindness towards others for their obsession with their professions.

Smallwood's portrayal is stoic, strong and bold. She proudly, stubbornly maintains her strength and pride throughout - refusing to accept any kind words, scoffing when the nurses call her "Sweetheart."

She is alone in life, without family, children, a partner, or friends. She has no visitors, and doesn't seem to yearn for them. She cares only about maintaining her mind, referring to the complex words and overwrought theories of John Donne.

Yet when she finally begins to deteriorate, she is heartbreaking.

The script plays with and bends the stereotypical conventions of literature versus science.

'Poetry-types' are typically viewed as flowery, romantic, and emotional while scientists are considered cold, calculated, research-focussed.

At first glance Bearing and Posner are polar opposites, yet turn out to be more similar than they think. Edson's words are also a love letter to literature, an homage to words. She plays with literary conventions throughout, and the script openly footnotes the use of flashbacks, irony, literary structure, paradox, and of course - wit.

In a flashback scene, one of Bearing's students asks, "Why did Donne have to make everything so complicated? Was he hiding behind his wit because he was scared?"

While she scoffs at this naive and uneducated question at the time, Edson's overarching message is that whether your passion or profession lies in literature or medicine, and no matter what your academic or career background is, human connection is what matters in the end.

"Wit" runs until Sunday at the LSPU Hall, 8 p.m.

Tickets are $25 ($20 for students/seniors/artists). There is a pay-what-you-Can-a-da-Day show on July 1.

Call 753-4531 for tickets.

 

Organizations: Edson's

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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