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February 17, 2004 > WIT: STAGE 1'S PREMIER BLACK BOX PRODUCTION

WIT: STAGE 1'S PREMIER BLACK BOX PRODUCTION

by Praveena Raman

In this Pulitzer Prize winning play by Margaret Edson, Dr. Vivian Bearing (Lisa Pan) a professor of 17th century poetry, specifically of the Holy Sonnets by poet John Donne, is diagnosed with 4th stage ovarian cancer. The playwright deals with the pain of cancer, and the fear and darkness of death with a sharp wit and humor.

The play opens with a monologue in the first person which is ideally suited to the intimate atmosphere of the Black Box theatre so much so that when Lisa Pan, as Dr, Bearing opens with a "How are you?" there was an immediate response of "Fine, thank you" from the front row. As she continues with her monologue, Dr. Bearing announces in the beginning "it is not my intention to give away the plot, but I think I die at the end. They have given me less than two hours." The play deals with the subject of pain and death without melodrama but with intelligence and humor. A refreshing change, this also has a more profound effect on one's senses.

As the 90 minute one-act play continues, Lisa Pan shows her strength and caliber as an actress as she effortlessly moves from the discomfort of her physical self undergoing intense chemotherapy to her sharp inner self coming at the audience with a dry aside, as in the scene where during a bout of nausea she addresses the audience with "You may remark that my vocabulary has taken a turn for the Anglo-Saxon. I am barfing my brains out." She also portrays, with ease, the character's obsession with words as she dissects medical terminology like "antineoplastic" that is thrown at her by insensitive doctors.

Scott Beyer gives a commendable performance in his supporting role as Dr. Jason Posner, a former student of Dr. Bearing who is now a fellow attending to her treatment. His comment to the nurse who questions his order of full chemotherapy treatment "She is tough. She can take it" gives the audience an insight of how Dr. Bearing was regarded by her students. Also lending strong support are Mark Rosen as Dr, Kelekian the doctor who abruptly breaks the bad news "you have cancer" and Leticia Duarte Trattner as the nurse who is dim but is the only sensitive person regarding her patient in a more human light. Another strong support came from Lindi Press as Professor E. M. Ashford, who while describing a line from Donne's sonnet points out to Dr. Bearing that "Death is a comma, a pause between life and everlasting life."

Director Donna Foley's use of authentic props (like real hospital beds) and attention to detail of the working of a research hospital make the play very realistic. She elegantly brings about scene transitions by using changes in lighting and different areas of the stage to portray the parts of a hospital. This was much more suitable for the venue than elaborate sets and scene changes. The offering of cookies and punch at the end of the performance was delightful giving nostalgic memories of the old Stage 1 theatre when it was housed in the old warehouse.

The only blemish in the entire evening was the delay at the beginning of the play after the house lights had dimmed and the stage was lit. To her credit, once Lisa Pan was on stage she kept the audience engaged throughout the ninety-minute play.

Wit is a must see for the residents of the Tri-City area especially those who enjoy an intellectually stimulating evening. The play is more suitable for mature audience, ages fifteen and older, who will enjoy its dry humor.

Wit continues at Stage 1 Theatre, Newark Memorial High School 39375 Cedar Blvd., Newark through March 6th 2004. Performances are: 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, February 20, 21, 27, 28, and March 5 & 6; 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sundays, February 22 & 29

Tickets ($10-$18) can be purchased online at http://www.stage1theatre.org, by phone (510) 791-0287 or at The Book End in Newark.

 
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