Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit, portrays a brilliant and independent-minded woman's determination to understand the biological processes that are leading her inexorably toward death – a notion she has heretofore only explored through the modalities of scholarship and inquiry.

The play is currently being staged by the Orlando Theatre Project at the Orlando Repertory Theatre, in a first-rate and moving production directed by Chris Jorie and starring Jan Wikstrom. The latter plays Vivian Bearing, a strong-willed and erudite Ph.D. who reports on her fading mortality through the prism of her sparkling academic career as an expert on the metaphysical poetry of 17th-century writer John Donne.

As terminal ovarian cancer causes the somewhat haughty and verbally precocious professor to slowly approach that "insuperable barrier between one thing and another," her dignity and sense of self are stripped away – not just by the disease, but also by the medical professionals to whose care she is forced to submit herself. Vivian confronts her fate with a practiced intellectual urgency derived from her pedantic training, coupled with a good-natured sense of bemusement and an understandable amount of fear and loathing.

Gutsy and intrepid, Vivian suffers through many rounds of experimental chemotherapy as her doctors (Jim Howard as the imperious Dr. Kelekian and Richard Width as the smarmy and supercilious research fellow, Dr. Posner) spend more time and energy checking her chart than they do her emotional (or even physical) well-being. In Edson's world of modern medicine, compassion is in short supply, coming only in the guise of the slow- witted nurse Susie (Darby Ballard) and professor Ashford (Kim Crow), a seminal teacher from Vivian's past.

Wikstrom is marvelous as Vivian, turning in a brave and sympathetic performance. The rest of the cast – made up of OTP regulars, guest artists and graduate students from the University of Central Florida theater department – ably supports her. Jorie choreographs the stage action with a sure and stylish hand, providing emotional closeness with the play's protagonist, wrapped within an aesthetic objectivism that the cerebral Vivian herself would applaud.

Watching the smart, self-aware Vivian decline as the wildly metastasizing cells in her body take their toll is a wrenching ordeal. But it is made beautiful by the brilliant combination of Edson's superb script, Jorie's deft staging and Wikstrom's profound and touching portrayal.

Through Nov. 13
Orlando Repertory Theatre

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