Mention people and cancer and the adjective “brave” pops up immediately. And in “Wit,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning first play from Margaret Edson, much bravery-of the theatrical kind-is on display. The playwright has decided to focus on a woman dying of cancer, spending the play in a medical center, allowing few supporting characters other than doctors, nurses, and interns. The actor (Allison Coutts-Jordan) portraying the woman Vivian Bearing, a professor in English specializing in John Donne, must achieve a delicate balance between dignity and debasement, between harshness and sentimentality. And because this terminal illness attacks such a stern taskmaster without, as we soon learn, a husband, children, friends, or loving students, the temptation for Edson to use the illness as a sort of punishment-repent, Ebenezer Scrooge!-must be resisted.
This performance, to run until Nov. 8 at SBCC’s Garvin Theater, pulls all the above off perfectly. Director Rick Mokler certainly took a chance with the play, with its many grim scenes likely to repel a number of people. Mr. Mokler also has invested in a play that relegates much of its time to a hospital bed set back in the stage. Fortunately, Ms. Coutts-Jordan handles everything with confidence-she is called on to carry the play and does so because there is no room in the character’s world for anybody else. She relishes the part and the audience is with her all the way.