Wit was the first play written by Margaret Edson, a kindergarten teacher. If that makes you think of rainbows and graham crackers, think again: The unsentimental story revolves around Vivian Bearing, a professor of literature who has stage IV ovarian cancer.
"She's a very hard person there's no glamour about Vivian Bearing," says Laura TimmKreitzer, stage manager for UCCS Theatreworks' production of Wit. "She's a real person with flaws."
And that's one reason why so many people find Edson's story flawless. In 1999, this debut earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Bearing studies John Donne, a metaphysical poet from the 15th century who's famous for having penned some of the most complex poems ever. Their brilliance lies in his search for a relationship to God, explains Ethelyn Friend, who draws upon her own bachelor's degree in poetry to play Bearing.
"And that's Vivian's story, too," says Friend. "She's intellectually brilliant, but she's distanced herself from matters of the heart and spirit."
In one scene, a student of Bearing's says Donne hides behind his considerable wit. Bearing, of course, disagrees. Blinded by her own intellect, she has no use for compassion or warmth until faced with the specter of death.
"It's the journey from being in a position of authority to becoming dependent, and how that can be freedom," says director Jane Page. "It's about redemption and grace, and of course, we sort of get to witness what happens to this woman as she dies."
Through studying Bearing, Friend has gained a level of compassion for the character.
"Viv and I have some places of contact, but playing this role is like putting on armor and then talking it off bit by bit," Friend says. "That's what it feels like as the play goes on. But it's a beautiful armor. I like it."