Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit” centers on the life of Vivian Bearing, a poetry professor diagnosed with stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer. It follows her through the years of her life in flashbacks and memories. The play, selected by director and LSA senior Billy Jackson, portrays an extremely powerful plot and delves into how the importance of a person’s life is measured posthumously.
Thursday and Friday at 7 and 11 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Theater
“I was drawn to this show in particular because I didn’t really understand it right away,” Jackson explained. “It was something I really struggled to understand, and I thought it was really aiming for something greater than some of the experiences I’ve had so far. It’s an incredibly moving show, and the emotional arc of it is really awesome.”
School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior Jane Bruce was cast in the lead role as Vivian. The part is challenging due to the extreme presence needed to portray such an emotional character.
“She’s on stage nonstop, no scene or act breaks, just acting for two hours straight,” Jackson said. “She is there the whole time, engaged in it, which I think is crazy. She is such a talented individual, and she’s really doing everything possible to do this role justice.”
As a senior preparing for graduation, Bruce relates to the element of change in the show — the idea that everything eventually draws to a close — and like Vivian Bearing, Bruce isn’t entirely sure what lies beyond this ending.
“Vivian is a woman who has always relied on her intelligence and her quest for perfection as a means of being satisfied with her life,” Bruce said. “But when she is faced with her death and forced to accept the fact that she will die, she works through what exactly her life has meant as a means of trying to find some final meaning. In doing so, she makes a discovery about life that she didn’t see before.”
Another challenge facing Bruce is that Vivian has to deal with the breakdown of barriers a person deals with when close to death.
“I think what I like about Vivian is her ability to find the irony in life, find the humor, find the wit,” Bruce said. “She tries to be tough as a teacher and with her intellect and also in going through the therapy. … But slowly her layers and her walls come down, and she is forced to accept what is on the inside.”
The ages of the characters in the show also pose a challenge for this student production because the majority of the central characters are 50 or older. Bruce is challenged not only by playing an older woman, but also by the intrinsically intellectual nature of Vivian.
“I like the challenge,” Bruce said. “It’s taught me to see myself differently, see the world differently and see life and death differently. It’s not that I personally have all the answers. I am seeing through a different set of lenses, and it’s a very thought-provoking process.”
Jackson, who is majoring in Screen Arts and Culture, is excited to see how the show and his directing come to fruition. Grateful for a hardworking cast and crew, both Jackson and Bruce feel fortunate to be ending their undergraduate careers with this show in particular.
“It’s good drama, good theater, good storytelling,” Jackson said. “It’s a very human show that isn’t about single moments. It’s about the sum total of a woman’s life being revealed before our eyes, and how she reaches a conclusion — what does she add up to? What is the sum total of her life? Whether we’re 50 years away or five days, what we are doing here is defined by an end boundary. And ‘Wit’ is what happens when a woman is pushed right up to that point.”