By Leigh Austin
The Hypocrites has always stood out as bold, experimental company willing to take big risks and to make every performance, at the very least, a unique experience. Their latest undertaking of Margaret Edson’s Wit, however, falls short of any such nomenclature. An uninspiring, low energy take on Edson’s darkly comic play, the production ultimately lacks the ingenuity to breathe new life into this well-loved script.
Wit follows Dr. Vivian Bearing, a professor specializing in 17th century literature, as she struggles through a brutally intensive and experimental chemo treatment. Once a distinguished professor who loved text more than people (and treated them accordingly), Bearing begins her medical journey as a hard-hearted, sarcastic patient, ready at any time to provide a snarky or jovial quip depending on the mood. When one of Bearing’s former students and current research fellow for the hospital, Jason, begins overseeing her care, Bearing starts to understand how it feels to be treated not as a person but as a tool, in a sense, (in her case, for scientific research), and she begins to reflect, both darkly and comically, on her life and the value of human connection.
Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning script has seen many productions in the 17 years since its publication (including an Emmy Award-winning HBO adaptation), but The Hypocrites’ production does nothing to stand apart. The technical elements of the show seemed rather bare given the company’s typical dedication to stylistic excellence, and the blocking, helmed by director Marti Lyons, left one side of the audience craning for a better view. All of this was further challenged by the show’s pacing which, whether due to opening night jitters or the wealth of medical and literary jargon, the cast never quite found.
Lisa Tejero’s take on Vivian Bearing, though, may be the element most at fault for the show’s low energy. Though Tejero manages to create a few poignant, touching moments, her performance primarily came across as a caricature; during flashbacks to Bearing’s days in the classroom, Tejero puts on a booming ‘professor voice’ that makes her sound more like a literal robot than a human being who has trouble connecting with people. And the many lengthy monologues she undertakes expressing her aptitude for all things literary quickly come across a bit stale due to the lack of variance.
That’s not to say, though, that there were no standout elements in the production.
Eduardo Xavier Curely-Carrillo’s distant but reserved performance as Bearing’s former student managed to capture the emotional detachment of one whose intellect proves isolating. And, when it comes down to it, Edson’s script will always resonate with audiences, even when not granted the most inspired performances.
In short, though I think it’s safe to say that it might be better to wait for the return of the Hypocrites in their 2017-2018 season.
Reviewed by Leigh Austin.
Wit continues through February 19th at The Den Theatre.
The Hawk was a common name for the cold, winter wind in Chicago, possibly even predating "the Windy City." Additionally, a hawk can see up to eight times more clearly than the human eye.