'Wit' is a courageous triumph

Thursday July 18, 2013

PUTNEY -- The Apron Theatre Company production of Margaret Edson's "Wit" speaks with the kind of honesty you wish everyone had the courage to speak with all the time.

Stripped of pretense, deception, delusion and superficiality, "Wit" is a beautiful and moving two hours of truth, delivered in Edson's eloquent words and Apron's equally graceful production, which continues through Saturday at Next Stage

A powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, other times uplifting work, "Wit" tells the story of Dr. Vivian Bearing, a tough, sharp scholar of the poetry of John Donne, who is dying of cancer. The play follows her to her last breath as she endures round after round of exhausting chemotherapy.

All that is pretty grim business, but "Wit" rises far above the medical details to deliver some important and uplifting truths about human kindness, connection and grace -- and manages to do so without being maudlin or oversentimental.

Not that "Wit" doesn't stir powerful emotions. Throughout the house on opening night last Thursday, one could hear the sound of sniffles; one was aware of tears. But "Wit" is remarkable in that delivers plenty of laughter too, and completes its hold on the audience with an interesting and engaging set of characters who we get to know very well over the course of the play.

Chief among these characters is Bearing herself, played here by Keely Eastley, who gives one of the most truthful and courageous performance I have ever seen. On stage the whole time and baring more and more of her soul as her character's lifeforce ebbs, Eastley digs as deeply as actress can go and gives us a performance that, on its own, is reason enough to go see the play.

She is abetted by a seasoned and sound cast that includes Greg Lesch as the cool clinician, Dr. Kelekian; Mark Bateman as the wide-eyed, naive researcher Dr. Jason Posner; Julia Tadlock as the sympathetic, caring nurse Suzie Monahan; and Jeanne L. Austin as Bearing's mentor E.M. Ashford.

Rounding the strong ensemble in a variety of roles are Ben Stockman, Carrie Kidd, Noah Flower-Desjardins, Ann-Marie White and Amanda Stocker.

The latter part of the play, which runs without intermission, is like a series of duets with one touching scene after another, all deeply revelatory and heartfelt. The end result is a play which casts a powerful spell and holds you there, through all its difficult and happier moments.

Director Hallie Flower deserves credit for allowing the beauty of Edson's play to shine and for nurturing fine performances from all her actors. "Wit" doesn't rely on a lot of technical touches for its magic, but all aspects of Apron's production -- Jon Hathaway's set, Vivian K. Smith's costumes and John Todd's lighting -- worked well in service of a powerful play.

"Wit" marks the beginning of a collaboration between Apron Theater Company and Next Stage Arts, and it heralds great things.

"Wit runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., at Next Stage, 15 Kimball Hill. Tickets are $10. For reservations, call 802-387-0071 or visit www.nextstagearts.org.


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