A few weeks ago my drama director asked me to play a part in a play for some performance. Am I being extremely vague? Yes, partly because I don’t remember, partly because it doesn’t matter. The play was called “Wit”, by Margaret Edson. Most pieces that I perform in leave no impression on me, at least to my consciousness. However, this seemingly small, unimportant performance of “Wit” has left me amazed at its beauty time and time again since the performance.
To be short, the play is about an English professor, Dr. Vivian Bearing, who is undergoing treatment for stage four ovarian cancer. The play is a reflection of her time under the care of a Dr. Kelekian. Throughout the play, she spends her time musing over Donne’s Holy Sonnets, her area of expertise. She also makes frequent divulgences into sarcasm and wit, which—for those of you who know me—is one of my preferred methods of communication.
The most influential portion of the play, however, is not in the life of the play, it is in the moments where the silence takes over your thoughts, where you are forced to listen, actually listen to what Margaret Edson is saying.
This is what my drama director performed so wonderfully. The words of Dr. Bearing, a stage four ovarian cancer patient:
“In this dramatic structure you will see the most interesting aspects of my tenure as an inpatient receiving experimental chemotherapy for advanced metastatic ovarian cancer.But as I am a scholar before an impresario, I feel obliged to document what it is like here most of the time, between the dramatic climaxes. Between the spectacles.
In truth, it is like this: (She ceremoniously lies back and stares at the ceiling)
You cannot imagine how time … can be … so still.
And yet there is so little of it.
It goes so slowly, and yet it is so scarce.
If I were writing this scene, it would last a full fifteen minutes. I would lie here, and you would sit there. (She looks at the audience, daring them) Not to worry. Brevity is the soul of wit.
But if you think eight months of cancer treatment is tedious for the audience, consider how it feels to play my part.”
To be honest, pure text can never do justice to a play. You need a team of actors to create the mood, the back-story. And you need an experienced team of actors who have spent hours pouring over the smallest, minute details to hope to get close what the original author was trying to recreate. This, however, is the beauty of the stage: that we, as actors, and as audience members, can take away what means the most to us.