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Theater

Hard-hitting Theatre Factory play 'Wit' tackles fear of death with hope

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Mary Schafer Masterman (center) stars in the upcoming Theatre Factory production of 'Wit,' along with Tyson Sears (left) and Bill Crean.
Kim Stepinsky | for the Tribune-Review
Mary Schafer Masterman (center) stars in the upcoming Theatre Factory production of 'Wit,' along with Tyson Sears (left) and Bill Crean.
Mary Schafer Masterman (center) stars in the upcoming Theatre Factory production of 'Wit,' along with Tyson Sears.
Kim Stepinsky | for the Tribune-Review
Mary Schafer Masterman (center) stars in the upcoming Theatre Factory production of 'Wit,' along with Tyson Sears.

Actor Jillian Vitko of Swissvale says that “Wit” at the Theatre Factory is a “must-see” stage production.

“It's a unique kind of play, one that doesn't come around very often,” she says. Even though it deals with a serious subject — a woman dying of ovarian cancer — playwright Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is uplifting and inspirational.

“Everyone involved in this production has poured their hearts into this show, and the script deserves nothing less,” Vitko, who plays nurse Susie Monahan in the production, says. “I wouldn't suggest missing it.”

Director David Little agrees that “Wit” is something special.

He first saw a production of it in 2000 and also enjoyed a 2001 HBO movie adaptation starring Emma Thompson.

“I have wanted to work on this play for many years, and this is my first opportunity to do so,” he says. “I am thrilled that the Theatre Factory has added the show to their current season and even more thrilled that they asked me to direct it.”

Little, an Elizabeth resident, says the play focuses on several issues that can be difficult to deal with, including cancer, mortality and the need for human connection and kindness.

“It is rare when a play can approach these complex subjects with humor and sensitivity while simultaneously managing to convey such hope for the future,” he says.

Mary Schafer Masterman of Moon portrays Vivian Bearing, a university professor of 17th-century poetry who is diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer. In the final stages of her illness at age 50, she is forced to review her life.

“Vivian has devoted her whole life to reaching the top of her career. Her intelligence is her power. She is brilliant, clever, tough,” Masterman says. “When she receives her diagnosis, she approaches it as she's approached life — intellectually. She uses her wit to distance herself from her fears, insecurities and humiliations.”

She also realizes that excluding personal relationships in her career-driven life has left her alone — with no partner, no children and no living parents to support her during this time of sadness.

Masterman's challenge in becoming her character was “to embody her intelligence, her physical destruction due to the chemo and cancer and her emotional journey when the ivory towers of academia can no longer hold her up.”

Vitko serves as a friend who tries to make her as comfortable as possible throughout her cancer treatment, even though Vivian isn't always receptive to her help.

“Nurses are sometimes the ‘unsung heroes' of hospitals, and it's nice to play a character like Susie, who portrays the type of strength and compassion that good nurses require,” she says.

The difficult subject matter of the play also hits close to home for her because she has a real-life family member in a situation similar to Vivian's.

“It felt very important to me to be a part of this show. It's been, in a strange way, a healing experience,” Vitko says.

Others in the cast include Bill Crean of Greenfield, Tyson Sears of Pleasant Hills and Linda Stayer of Murrysville. “Wit” is performed without intermission and contains adult content.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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