Vivian Bearing is all scholar. Her high-browed intellect is planted in the 17th century and the Holy Sonnets of John Donne.
She is slapped into a new awareness when she's diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. Only then does she begin realizing how much of life she has neglected.
Wit, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson, opens tonight at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre for a four-weekend run. Edson, a young Atlanta schoolteacher, has said her script about dying has an optimistic heart. It's about love and knowledge, about a person who built a stellar career but didn't learn how to connect with others until her days were numbered.
Vivian may frost the audience at first, but Edson aims for a warming trend by the end of the 90-minute production.
Leading the nine-member cast, in the role of Vivian, is Lesa Lockford, an assistant theater professor at Bowling Green State University. “Vivian is grappling with the major issues of any life,” said Lockford. “But she is so removed from what it means to be a part of humanity.”
Walking in the slippers of a dying woman causes an actor to reflect on life, said Lockford. “Our meaning in life is from our death, by virtue of the fact that it's not forever,” she said. “We often live like there's no tomorrow, but there is. I think we often live in forgetfulness.”
Among Lockford's preparations for the role was saying good-bye to her hair. She did so in a manner that the cerebral Vivian could not have done. Last week, with the help of eager friends, Lockford shaved her head, fashioning her hair into a mullet, then into mohawks of various widths, and a couple of silly horns before becoming a member of the clean pate club.
“It's also about forgiveness, both of yourself and other people. And God, or whoever, if you're not religiously inclined,” she said.
Playwright Edson wrote a 21/2-hour script in 1991 while supporting herself by working in a bicycle shop. Then she struggled to pare it down by an hour. Wit was first produced in 1995. Fearing audiences might leave before the play was over, Edson did not include an intermission.
She recommends that theaters staging the show involve an oncology nurse. The Rep turned to the Cancer Institute at the Medical College of Ohio for information about medical processes and terms, said Brian Bethune, the Rep's artistic director and director of Wit.
This play is probably not for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It's not for the faint of heart or vocabulary. Expect an abundance of multisyllabic words such as perspicacious and infelicitous. Expect some unpleasant medical activity, and a moment of frontal nudity.
And keep eyes and ears open for some insights that might make your own life a little richer.
The Toledo Repertoire Theatre's production of “Wit” opens at 8 tonight in the theater at 16 Tenth St. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. tomorrow and March 1, 2, 7-9, and 14-16. Matinees will be performed at 2:30 p.m. March 3 and 10. Tickets are $18. Ticket prices for students and people 65 and older at Thursday and Sunday performances are $16. In addition, student rush tickets are available for $13 at the box office an hour before curtain. Information: 419-243-9277.