English literary scholar Vivian Bearing has spent years deciphering and interpreting the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. She has cultivated her intellect at the expense of her heart. Both colleagues and students view Bearing as a chilly and aloof person lost in her private world of words.
At the age of 50, she is diagnosed with stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. Dr. Kelekian wants her to take eight high-dose experimental chemotherapy treatments for eight months. He warns her that she will need to be “tough” — to rely upon large reserves of inner courage and willpower.
Vivian tries to remain stoical as she suffers through questions and tests from technicians; “grand rounds,” where she is prodded by medical students and treated like a specimen rather than a human being; the loneliness of time spent in an isolation ward; the terrible side-effects of the chemotherapy; and then the pain of the still spreading cancer.
Through several flashbacks we gain insights into Vivian’s life: an encounter with her mentor E. M. Ashford, who warns her to spend more time with friends; a special moment as a child with her father, who encourages her delight in words and their intricate meanings; and several moments with students in need who were not treated compassionately.
Although Vivian has used her intellect and her dry wit as a shield to carry her through life, these are of little value in the face of death. She sees her enslavement to abstractions and her indifference to others mirrored in the actions of Jason Posher, an ambitious clinical fellow working under Dr. Kelekian.
This 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is not primarily a play about cancer, nor about the wit of John Donne – it is a play about the balance between head and heart; a play about life, not death.
Playwright Margaret Edson
Director Helen Tonkin
Set and Lighting Designer Victor Kalka
Music and Sound Designer Adam Jones
Costume and Properties Designer Kaitlyn Symons
Stage Manager Maddison Huber
Poster Image Daniel Regan Photography
Cheryl Ward as Vivian Bearing
Chantelle Jamieson as Dr Jessica (Jason) Posner
Yannick Lawry as Harvey Kelekian/Mr Bearing
Hailey McQueen as Susie Monahan
Jan Langford- Penny as E.M. Ashford
Matt Abotomy as Lab Technician/Clinical Fellow/Student