Auditions took place at the beginning of December for Cayman Drama’s Society’s newest production: Wit, a play that won a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull speaks with the show’s co-director, Sue Horrocks, to find out more about the play and its altruistic purpose.
Based on the play of the same name written by Margaret Edson, readers might be more aware of the 2001 movie ‘Wit’, which starred Emma Thompson as Vivian Bearing, a literal, hardnosed English professor who was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. During the story, she reflects on her reactions to the cycle the cancer takes, the treatments, and significant events in her life and a varied set of characters enliven the screen with their own poignant performances, including Jason Posner (played by Jonathan Woodward), who only finds faith in being a doctor; Susie Monahan (Audra McDonald), a nurse with a human side that is the only one in the hospital that cares for Vivian’s condition; and Dr. Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd), the head doctor who just wants results no matter what they are.
Sue Horrocks is the co-director and also takes on the lead role of the play to be produced in Cayman. She gives some background to its arrival here: “I saw the film version some years back and was moved by Emma Thompson’s performance of Vivian Bearing. Indeed, the whole cast and screenplay was superb and had me sobbing from start to finish. As someone who has performed in more than 30 productions at CDS I saw it as a role which I would possibly be able to tackle one day – a massive challenge but one with such depth that is a ‘dream’ role to take on.”
Sue says that personal circumstances and a much more direct experience with cancer and its cruelty last year brought the whole cancer experience into sharp focus for her. It also highlighted the tremendous role that Hospice Care plays worldwide in a very personal way to those dealing with life-limiting illness.
“This experience prompted me to re-visit the play and order both the script and DVD. As well as giving a copy to Dr Ginny Hobday, Clinical Director of Cayman HospiceCare to view and share with HospiceCare staff, I mooted my idea of performing Wit for HospiceCare and my desire to play the part of Vivian Bearing,” Sue confirms. “Dr Hobday and I talked it over at length over a period of time and I then approached HospiceCare formally as well as asking CDS if they would allow me to present the play at the Playhouse. They couldn’t have been more accommodating – they have allowed me to take the proverbial ball and run with it.”
Sue asked Mary-Anne Kosa to co-direct as Sue is playing the lead role and felt it was valuable to have the insight of someone she trusted with whom she could work closely and who could step back from the play where necessary.
“Mary-Anne understands my vision for the production and so I am confident that, together with Sheree Ebanks as producer, a terrifically strong cast and support team including Ginny Hobday as Medical Consultant, we can put together a first class production which will promote awareness of HospiceCare but also challenge audiences to explore the raw emotions and complexities that go hand in hand with a cancer diagnosis and its treatment in the safety of the theatre,” Sue states.
Confirmed actors for the Cayman production include Sue Horrocks as Vivian Bearing, Sue Howe as Susie Monahan, Peter Kosa as Dr. Kelekian and Alice Ann Brunn as Professor E.M. Ashford.
Sue confirms that a good percentage of the proceeds of the play in Cayman will be donated to Hospicecare.
Producer Sheree Ebanks adds further detail to the plot: “Vivian Bearing, a demanding and uncompromising professor of 17th century English poetry specialising in the holy sonnets of John Donne, is diagnosed with advanced (stage four) metastatic ovarian cancer. Being an academic, she treats the news with a certain matter-of-factness much like she would her own research. Indeed, her medical team – the renowned Dr. Harvey Kelekian and his fellow, Dr. Jason Posner, who happens to be an ex-student of hers – do treat her solely like a research experiment, with a “live at all cost” mentality.
The doctors recommend an experimental treatment of aggressive chemotherapy, to which she agrees. In part out of her own choice but in part out of her own personal circumstances, she decides to go through the treatment alone. But as her treatment progresses, she wishes she had some more truly caring human interaction from people who see her as a person and not just a research experiment.”
Sheree says the play is “not only one of the best plays I have ever read, but it has had a profound impact and left a lasting impression. I am pleased to be able to be a part of this production.”
Wit is the first play written by American playwright Margaret Edson, who used her work experience in a hospital as part of the inspiration for her play. The play first took to the stage in California in 1995 and then moved to New York City in 1998, and won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Wit also received the ‘Best New Play’ award for 1999 from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.
Wit runs from 1 to 6 February 2010 at the Prospect Playhouse. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 949-5054.