Chicago Theatre Review
‘Wit’ reaffirms why we need The Hypocrites
Wit – Hypocrites Theatre
I could not resist a feeling of sorrow as I entered Den Theatre for The Hypocrites’ staging of Margaret Edson’s incredible play “Wit.” Long one of Chicago’s top storefront theater companies, The Hypocrites has staged one daring and original production after another over the years, with shows ranging from Gilbert & Sullivan musicals, to Chekhov, to the massively ambitious “All Our Tragic,” a combination of all 32 surviving Greek tragedies. So it was sad when, at the end of last year, The Hypocrites announced it would be cutting short its 2016-2017 season for financial reasons, ultimately ending the season before its final two plays could be staged.
It’s truly a pity, because as its staging of “Wit” demonstrates, The Hypocrites remains on Chicago’s vanguard. A deeply moving tale of one woman’s battle with stage-four ovarian cancer, “Wit” follows the struggles of Vivian Bearing, a brilliant and, yes, witty professor of English who is an expert on the poetry of John Donne. Beginning with her diagnosis, “Wit” tracks Bearing’s treatment with excruciating focus, covering everything from her chemotherapy, to the treatment’s ceaseless side effects, to her hair loss – all the while pivoting back to her days as a professor. It’s a virtuosic piece of storytelling, and its a testament to playwright Margaret Edson’s talents that the show has lost none of its power in the 17 years since its premiere on Broadway.
But again, there is The Hypocrites’ staging of the play, which takes Edson’s text into new and exciting directions. For instance, there is Courtney O’Neill’s sterling set design, which surrounds the stage with hospital curtains and, with Michael Stanfill’s lighting and Rasean Davonte Johnson’s projections, creates the distinct impression of a cold hospital climate. There is Marti Lyons’ direction, which inspires uniformly strong performances from the show’s ensemble cast, especially lead actress Lisa Tejero, who is endlessly compelling as Bearing, and Eduardo Curley-Carrillo, who is absolutely convincing as Bearing’s socially awkward, brilliant doctor.
And there are moments that combine all those elements into what can only be described as theater bliss – I’m thinking of a moment, halfway through the play, when Bearing describes her commanding presence as a professor, and how she would teach one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets. A projection of the sonnet appears across a hospital curtain, highlighting various lines of poetry as Bearing lectures. And then, as her lecture reaches its crescendo, the text splinters, coating Bearing and the stage in Donne’s beautiful words.
How can we not support a theater company that produces such beautiful work? “Wit” demands to be seen, and The Hypocrites deserves such support.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Running through Feb. 19, presented by The Hypocrites at Den Theatre, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave
Tickets are available by visiting www.the-hypocrites.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.