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A Woman's Battle With Ovarian Cancer, The Medical Establishment, And Herself

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A Public Fit Theatre Company is bringing the Margaret Edson play “Wit” to the Las Vegas stage. It begins Friday at  A Public Fit’s theater space downtown.

“Wit” received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999.

The main character in the play is Vivian Bearing.

She’s a college professor whose specialty is the metaphysical poetry of John Donne.

Vivian is severe and demanding with her students, lives mostly in her head, and seems to have no close friends. Her life is orderly and intellectual, and in control – that is, until she’s diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.

She’s then treated with an experimental drug which involves extended stays in the hospital – and a lot of physical and emotional pain.

In the play, Vivian’s past is explored through flashbacks to her childhood, her classroom, and visits with her mentor.

“Wit” was Edson’s only play. She wrote it based on her experiences working as a cleric on an oncology floor.

One thing Edson noticed, which is depicted in the play, is how doctors treated patients compared with how nurses treated patients.

“In the play, and also her time working as a cleric, she noticed that the doctors viewed the patients more as research versus having more of a human connection,” Anne Marie Pareth, artistic director for theater company told KNPR’s State of Nevada.

To make sure the production was as close as possible to real life, Barbara Caldwell with the Women’s Cancer Center of Nevada was a consultant.

“I was really excited to get the message about ovarian cancer out there,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell took Pareth to one the center’s chemotherapy centers, lent the production medical equipment and showed them the proper way to do certain medical procedures.

By the time ovarian cancer is detected, it is often terminal, Pareth said. That was especially true in the 90s when the play was written.

Pareth believes that is the point of the whole play. As Vivian dies, she truly begins to live.

“That’s what I think the play is actually about,” she said, “A lot of people are apprehensive about coming to the play because of the subject matter. Yes, it is a play about ovarian cancer but I really think it’s a play about self-actualization.”

Because Vivian has focused on her work and made little effort to build relationships with other people, no one comes to visit her in the hospital as she is dying.

With no friends to visit, she begins to forge a relationship with one of her nurses.

“Through that relationship, she learns kindness, she learns empathy, she learns connection, so that’s what I really think the play is about,” Pareth said.

She believes that is what the work is trying to communicate: don’t wait for the last moments of your life to truly connect with others.

“I don’t think the play is about dying, I think it’s about living,” she said.  

 

Tina Rice as Vivian Bearing in the Public Fit Theatre Company’s Las Vegas production of the Margaret Edson play “Wit.”/Photo: Richard Brusky Courtesy: A Public Fit Theatre Company, Las Vegas

Ann Marie Pareth, Artistic Director, A Public Fit Theatre Company; Tina Rice, Actor; Barbara Caldwell, Nurse Practitioner and Director, Chemotherapy at the Women's Cancer Center of Nevada

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.