Sanford Robbins’ production of Margaret Edson’s WIT at The Rep at University of DE, rolls up its sleeves and delves unapologetically into the struggle between intellect and emotion. The production is certainly not guilty of reinventing the wheel in a wonderful way in that it stays true to Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning text. The set, designed by Stefanie Hansen, answers the minimalistic call of the script, creating a bleak world of warms and cools juxtaposed against each other. The transition from the blank stage of Vivian’s mind to the chaos of the hospital is seamless, leaving a patina of sterility in the audience’s mind that echoes with the squeaking of nurses’ shoes. Throughout the opening monologue the house lights remain at half, including the audience in the conversation unfolding before them. In a play populated by individuals too busy with their own neuroses to notice the human stories unfolding around them, the production allows for unexpected moments of connection to pop up and engage the audience.
Kathleen Pirkl Tague beautifully delivers a performance that balances the intellectual perplexities with the simple emotional conundrums facing Dr. Vivian Bearing. Throughout the action of the play the character never lies, either to herself or her colleagues. Pirkl Tague, similarly, wins the audience’s trust from her very first “Hi!” and remains utterly and painfully honest with us throughout her final moment. Lee Ernst, as the thoroughly professional medical man Dr. Kelekian, echoes wonderfully Vivian’s cold academic competence while finding moments of real human connection over an educator’s frusterations. A wonderful transformation to watch is that of Jason, played by Michael Gotch. Gotch’s portrayal brings humor and an endearing touch of awkward humanity to a character that could have easily come across as a cold research assistant. Susie, the caring nurse played by Jasmine Bracey, is a constant source of warmth and welcomeness in a world stuck between the rock of academia and the hard place of medical research. Elizabeth Helfin and Stephen Pelinski round out the lead cast with touching moments, bringing both warmth and sternness to their respective characters. An ensemble of 6 other actresses and actors fills in the remainder of the world with seamless efficiency.
A play filled with the intellectual complexities of John Donne ends with a simple and beautiful reminder of what we are made of as Vivian is stripped of her gown and reaches into the light. I came to WIT expecting to be moved and was not at all surprised when the gentleman sitting beside me, who had been pleasantly dozing during the beginning scenes, leaned forward in his chair and burst into tears during the final moments of the play. What surprised me throughout the production was the easy ebb and flow of humor (not to mention wit). The story that is told is effortlessly human and this ensemble does a seamless job in its telling.
WIT runs until May 10. It is approximately an hour and forty minutes and has no intermission.
by Margaret Edson
Directed by Sanford Robbins
thru May 10, 2014
Resident Ensemble Players
Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Road
University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716