Genuinely moving an audience to tears without violence or manipulation is not easy. However, “Wit,” Margaret Edson’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, now at Big Idea Theatre, is a tearjerker without pretense. It is a virtual one-woman show about a patient during her final hours, dying from ovarian cancer. It also, is a celebration of the intellectual life, of a mind that has always tried to understand the world.
Professor Vivian Bearing (portrayed by a remarkable Beth Edwards) is a renowned scholar of metaphysical poetry. She is especially famous for her dissection and explication of the poetry of John Dunne, particularly his Holy Sonnet X (popularly known as “Death Be Not Proud”).
The play takes place during the professor’s dying hours, but much is learned about her life before cancer brought it to its end. She challenged her students (one of whom now is among her physicians) to question, as she did, everything. In particular, we see her through the frightening moment she received the initial diagnosis of Stage IV cancer, through round after round of experimental and debilitating chemotherapy to her final breath. (It is perhaps ironic that it is the former student (played by Zane Boyer) who pushes her through the roughest regimen of treatment for the sake of his “research.”
Edwards masterfully delineates the process of dying. With a shaved head, but with no other special makeup, she grows gaunt before our eyes, weakening, it seems, by the moment until the final breath.
This is not easy. But it is outstanding theater.
“Wit” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 9 at Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd. Tickets are $12 Thursdays and $18-$22 on weekends.
For tickets or for more information, call (916) 960-3036 or go to BigIdeaTheatre.org.
Last Weekend for Two Strong Dramas
“Abolition,” a play by Northern California playwright Rick Foster (who also wrote the excellent “Kate,” which was performed off-Broadway by Janis Stevens), tells the story of a remarkable and little-explored friendship between two abolitionists–one, the escaped slave Frederick Douglass (Levi Lowe), and the other, a white Puritan named John Brown (Thomas F. Maguire).
Douglass, like Martin Luther King Jr. and others who would lead the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, was non-violent. He wanted to win freedom for slaves peacefully. Brown, on the other hand, was a firebrand, a man intent on taking freedom for the slaves, even if it meant war. His acts did, in fact, provoke the Civil War.
Foster directs this production of his play at Celebration Arts and elicits excellent performances from both actors.
Abolition” will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (Jan. 31-Feb. 2) and at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 3, final show) at Celebration Arts, 2727 B St. Tickets are $10 Thursdays and $20 for weekend performances.
For tickets or for more information, call (916) 455-2787 or go to CelebrationArts.net.
This is also the final weekend for the B Street Family Series play “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Sound of Freedom.” Written by Jerry Montoya and starring B Street Company member Jahi Kearse (soon to be headed to Broadway in the Berry Gordy story “Ain’t Too Proud”), this is a celebration of civil rights heroes through the ages. Their stories and their words prove inspirational as well as educational.
The program lasts about an hour and is perfectly suited for younger audiences. B Street Theatre is in The Sofia arts center, 2700 Capitol Ave. Performances are at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 2-3). Tickets are $19 for children and $24 for adults.
To buy tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to BStreetTheatre.org.