Death illuminates life: The Backstage Theatre’s presentation of "Wit’ draws audiences into an invigorating intellectual and emotional journey |

Death illuminates life: The Backstage Theatre’s presentation of "Wit’ draws audiences into an invigorating intellectual and emotional journey

I have to admit it. I wasn’t looking forward to the Backstage Theatre’s play about a woman dying from ovarian cancer, no matter how witty the director and actors told me it was. In fact, I dreaded it. I feared walking out of the theater carrying the weight of illness and death on my shoulders. I brought my mom for moral support, because she thought the play sounded interesting.

Once again, she was right.

“Wit” is less about a woman dying from ovarian cancer and more about how experiences and perspectives shape a person’s life. Director Tom Hart masterfully draws out the wit embedded in the journey of cancer patient Vivian Bearing, propelling the emotional content of the story with irony.

Telling her story in a series of flashbacks, Bearing oscillates between speaking to the audience and to the doctors, nurses, technicians and people she has encountered before and after her diagnosis.

Barbara Morgan, the managing director of the Backstage Theatre from 1993 to 1996, brilliantly embodies the role of Bearing from her bare feet to her bald head. Using minimal props – a hospital bed, an occasional wheelchair and an IV bag – Morgan shares her character’s thoughts, feelings and biting wit with ease. The moment she sets foot on stage, her commanding performance captivates the audience.

Stripped of the professor Bearing bases her identity upon, she has nothing to hide behind except a plain hospital gown and her extensive vocabulary. Ironically, in the end, it is her verbosity – which she always employed to distance herself both intellectually and emotionally from others – that opens her heart.

Despite Bearing’s somewhat overbearing, intellectual approach to life, she is a sympathetic and likeable character. Though she has treated her students in the same objective and distanced manner the doctor who examines her does, the irony – rather than the justice – of the situation comes out.

For 90 minutes without a break, Morgan and her supporting cast use wordplay to illuminate the wit and emotion of life.

Actors Rick Rexford, James Brennan, Misty Rogers, Diane Gadomski, Denise Townsend and Shawn Wee reaffirm the extraordinary talent found in Summit County. Newcomer Rogers, a native of Kansas, makes her mark in the county with her compelling performance as nurse Susie Monahan. Other actors transform their real-life experiences surviving brain cancer or working for 911 dispatch to enrich their characterization.

After watching “Wit,” I realized my fear of walking away in a dark, emotional cloud was unfounded. The production engaged my intellect, taking it on an invigorating ride. It also softened my heart, allowing me to view death as a natural process of life.

As Hart notes in the program, “There is an irony in the fact that one is never so close to the vibrant qualities of life as when one is on the verge of realized death.”

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at


When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 19

– Where: Breckenridge Center for the Performing Arts

– Tickets: $15

– Reservations: (970) 453-0199

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