by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 8, 2016

Liz Adams as Vivian Bearing. Photo by Tim Gurczak
Liz Adams as Vivian Bearing. Photo by Tim Gurczak  

"Death be not proud..."

So begins what is likely John Donne's most familiar Holy Sonnet and the central reference in Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Wit."

"Wit" is a difficult play to pull off convincingly. It is wordy and dense. It deals with life and death. It outlines the almost daily humiliations that come with battling advanced cancer. And, it relies almost exclusively on the performance of its lead actor.

The show is also is a bit of a theatrical legend. Ms. Edson, an elementary school teacher from Atlanta, has famously said that she has no desire to ever write another play. Yet, "Wit" was her first play - and it won the Pulitzer among numerous other awards. She is truly a "one hit wonder."

The Hub's Theater Company's production does an admirable job with the production thanks to Liz Adams' sure-footed performance as Vivian Bearing. Vivian is our narrator as well as the highly demanding medieval literature scholar focused on the Holy Sonnets of John Donne that we witness battling stage 4 ovarian cancer.

It is an incredibly challenging role for any actor. To portray a tough as nails persona and gradually let it crack and fade while also believingly portraying the pain and discomfort of the disease is a tall order. Ms. Adams has a bit of a rocky start, but soon catches her footing and delivers a touching and honest performance.

And she could likely take it to the next level if it were not for the supporting cast. For as nuanced as Ms. Adams' performance is, the rest of the company lacks any subtlety. Each one proves that there are myriad ways to overact and draw focus.

It is truly a shame. Some of the scenes she has with both her former student-turned-doctor (Jason Posner portrayed by Tim Hoover) and her nurse (Susie Monahan portrayed by Lauren Elias) have beautiful moments which could be truly heartbreaking for both characters. Here you hope that they leave Vivian alone again soon.

The overall sense is that director John Geoffrion's entire rehearsal process was spent with Ms. Adams and the remaining cast was filled in at the last minute. It's a disservice both to the play as well as the actors.

Ms. Adams' performance assures that those not familiar with "Wit" could do worse for a first experience. Those who have seen it before will probably find this production a bit lacking.

"Wit continues through Saturday, November 19 at the First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough Street, Boston, MA. For more information visit the Hub Theatre Company of Boston website.