Wit for Life

A lyrical ode to the life of the mind when the body begins to die

Although the stage time of the supporting cast is brief, it is essential to the play's success. Bearing's interactions with other human beings represent her relationship to the world and in a smaller way, to us. Both Wong as the younger researcher and Tara Vodihn Reid as Bearing's primary nurse seem stiff at the beginning and somewhat unsteady in their roles. This is perhaps most noticeable because Sloan's stage presence is so powerful. Wong looks the part of a young perfectionist medical researcher, but his delivery sometimes sounds rehearsed. Likewise Reid is uncharacteristically inconsistent in her portrayal of nurse Monahan. At times she seems sure in her role as the down-to-earth and deeply compassionate nurse who is oblivious to philosophical quandaries. At other times her delivery feels hollow. The scene in which she is supposed to share a Popsicle with Bearing is one of this production's biggest missed opportunities.

On the other hand, the more seasoned players hold their own and help create a compelling portrait of Bearing's past. Dr. Kelekian, the chief researcher, is as cold toward humans as he is passionate about human cells. Later the doctor turns his back to the audience, puts on a cardigan sweater, holds up a newspaper, and becomes Bearing's intellectually demanding and detached father.

Yolandi Hughes deserves credit for bringing one of the play's most poignant moments to the surface as Dr. E.M. Ashford, Bearing's mentor and only visitor. In Bearing's final moments, Ashford enters quietly and reads to her from a children's book. While the dramatic makeover to illustrate Ashford's old age seems overdone and unnecessary, it is again de Acha's decision to underplay a potentially dramatic scene that makes it so moving.

Barbara Sloan manages wit when faced with the other side
Barbara Sloan manages wit when faced with the other side

Details

Through August 26; 305-443-5909
New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St, Coral Gables

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Even a brilliantly written play such as Witapparently cannot escape the Hollywood happy-ending formula, so it is not surprising that the play doesn't end with the simple image of Bearing's motionless body. Having seen Judith Light practically do an arabesque into a glaring spotlight in last year's production of Wit at the Parker Playhouse, I can safely say that de Acha does a good job of not overdoing what is already overdone. Still, the combination of music, lights, and Sloan's final gesture create a religiosity that seems anticlimactic. As much as we may want to make it so, Wit is not a play about God but a fundamentally secular piece of fiction (hence its mass appeal from off-Broadway to HBO). For me the play ends in those final moments of silence that transform the audience members into mourners. At that point we experience the center of Wit's paradox: the inevitable void of death carved from the undeniable presence of life.

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