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For the week of June 14 through June 20, 2000

The spirit triumphs
in ‘Wit’

Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play opens Thursday

Express Staff Writer

"Wit," a play by Margaret Edson, is about incurable cancer, a treatment approach that is almost worse than the disease, a callous medical establishment, dehumanization, humiliation and terrible pain. Sounds unbearable, right?

But at its core—and what makes it the Pulitzer Prize-winning, powerful drama that it is—"Wit" is about redemption, grace and beauty.

New Theatre Company presents "Wit" at the nexStage Theater in Ketchum Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.

The production stars local actress Claudia McCain as Dr. Vivian Bearing, a distinguished and tough-minded professor of 17th century poetry who has been diagnosed with Stage Four ovarian cancer.

"Stage" refers to how far the disease has advanced. There are four stages of ovarian cancer. In Stage Four, cancer has spread outside the ovary and abdomen or to the liver.

"There is no Stage Five," Bearing says dryly in the play.

Bearing agrees to serve as a subject for advanced chemotherapy research conducted by a large, unnamed medical center, where the physicians are as emotionally cold as the decor in her room.

Bearing, an expert in the poetry of John Donne, uses the poet’s work—especially his so-called "Holy Sonnets"—as a kind of shield from her ordeal.

During a lunch break at Esta’s Restaurant in Ketchum on Thursday, McCain took time to reflect on the emotionally grueling role.

"It has been an amazing journey," said McCain, who was wearing a wide-brimmed hat to cover her shaved head. "It has been transforming my life on a deep level."

McCain spent months researching the part. She visited the Mountain State Tumor Institute in Boise, where she researched cancer and cancer surviving.

She took up Donne and continues to study the poet, whose work and life, she said, parallels Bearing’s life.

McCain also consulted with several local health professionals, including Carolyn Nystrom of the Wood River Hospice.

It was when McCain looked in the mirror last week and glimpsed her shaved head for the first time that she really began to feel like Bearing.

"‘Now I’m Vivian Bearing,’ I said to myself," McCain said. "She’s here."

The play is directed by Patricia Willson, one of four out-of-town professionals that New Theatre Company director David Blampied brought in for the production.

Willson, who lives in Los Angeles, is an award winning actress and director. She received an L.A. Weekly Award for her portrayal of a woman with Down Syndrome in "Rangements." She directed a production of Noel Coward’s "Hay Fever," which received another L.A. Weekly Award.

Joining McCain in the cast are Los Angeles actors Laura Vega and Dominick Morra; John Hayden of Buffalo; and local actors Patricia Conwell, Tobey Wilson, Noah Richter, Mandie O’Connell and Kate Ellis.

Blampied also enlisted the support of local heath professionals, including physicians Scott McLean, Alice Police, and Paul Montgomery; Wood River Hospice director Carolyn Nystrom; and Theresa Bush of the Wood River Medical Center. They will offer a panel discussion on the issues raised by the play after the Saturday and Sunday performances.

Bearing’s plight will seem familiar to most audience members, according to McCain.

"Almost everyone knows someone who has had cancer," McCain said. "Because it is so pervasive, it’s like there’s a war going on. Like a war, it leaves casualties, it takes lives and it leaves survivors."

Indeed, about 552,200 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACA). That’s more than 1,500 people a day. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the country, exceeded only by heart disease. One in four deaths in this country is caused by cancer.

One out of every fifty-five women (approximately 1.8 percent) will develop ovarian cancer sometime in their lifetimes, according to the ACA. In 1999, approximately 25,400 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Edson’s play, McCain said, is ultimately about "the grace and beauty of surviving."

Tickets for "Wit" are available at Chapter One in Ketchum and at Read All About It in Hailey. Group, student and senior rates are available. For more information, call Blampied at 726-2271.


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