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For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

The tough stuff

Life and death are the tough stuff. So is cancer, the most feared disease of our time.

Being confronted with all three in a mountain resort town is unexpected, and for some, an ambush.

People who saw "Wit," the Pulitzer-prize winning play by Margaret Edson came away last week in one of several states: subdued, thoughtful, in tears or in a rage. The play continues Thursday through Sunday at NexStage Theater in Ketchum.

When the lights went out on the final scene, the audience was confused. Should they applaud? Should they sit in silence? Should they hug a seatmate and cry? Should they run for the nearest exit? Should they punch out the producers?

It was an emotional whirlpool.

Applause was like an ice-water awakening from a deep and powerful dream.

Reactions were so mixed that New Theatre Company brought in counselors from the Hospice of the Wood River Valley to aid audience members as they exited the theater.

This newspaper does not write critical reviews of community theater. Community theater is what it is and we are privileged to live in a place with talented performing arts groups. Live theater enriches our lives and we support the efforts of all the acting companies that present lively productions each year.

"Wit, " however, demands more ink than usual.

Plays don’t win Pulitzers for nothing. The Pulitzer committee doesn’t give "E" for effort.

"Wit" is not a play for wimps. It’s about everything humans fear—pain, indignity, loneliness and loss. It’s about every virtue and weakness. It forces us to look at their humanity and inhumanity together.

"Wit" is a level of theater never seen before in the Wood River Valley. It is dark. It is morbidly funny. It is wrenching.

Its professional cast is led by Claudia McCain, who has performed light local fare for years. With "Wit," she leaves "light" and "local" in the dust. McCain and company turn in a tour de force.

The play left Broadway only recently. It offers sparse relief from the tough stuff. Even the jokes hurt. Like cancer, it is unrelenting—it has no intermission.

Dying and death are not part of the valley’s preferred vocabulary. They are parts of life it would prefer not to think about. The valley is about beauty and grace, not the disfigurement of disease. It is about health, not puking one’s guts out in an all-out chemical and biological war waged by a single combatant.

The New Theater Company took a big risk laying down this play in the middle of Sun Valley, the capital of denial, where if one is fit enough, skis enough or owns a house that’s big enough, one will never face pain or die.

Great art and great performances all risk failure. With "Wit," the New Theatre Company put it all on the line, an act of artistic courage that should be rewarded with the valley’s appreciation.


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