Win some, lose some

The Actory gets a hit and a miss—sort of—with Wit and Art in repertory



Watching the Actory Theatre Arts Centre’s productions of Art and Wit in one weekend was a study in paradox. Wit is heart-wrenching, but punctuated with ample humor and stellar performances. Art should have been funny, but it’s mostly bitchy and tiresome.

In Wit, Vivian (Becky Seibert) is a professor of 17th century poetry, specifically John Donne, and a notorious hard-ass. “It’s not that I’m controversial, just uncompromising,” Vivian explains. She’s also got advanced ovarian cancer and will undergo an unprecedented eight months of chemotherapy “at the full dose.”

In a flashback, a professor tells a young Vivian, “The effort must be total for the result to be meaningful.” The result: Vivian has spent every bit of her life’s energy studying Donne’s poetry, leaving none for friendship or love.

Vivian struggles to preserve her independence, intellectualism and cold dignity despite her terminal illness. The painful irony is that Vivian’s behavior has left her with no one to lean on at the end of her life, and the doctors treat her more like a research subject than a human being.

Her one source of comfort is Suzy (Saralinda Seibert), a nurse who doesn’t understand metaphysical poetry but does understand the simple joy of a shared orange popsicle. The scenes between the mother-and-daughter team of Becky and Saralinda Seibert are infused with natural tenderness; Saralinda confessed that she cried during every rehearsal up to the week before opening night.

I can see why. When Becky Seibert portrays Vivian in pain, her body contorts in shockingly realistic agony. Her make-up has been expertly applied, giving her a subtle hollowness in her eyes and a face just a couple shades whiter than normal. And, lo and behold, she’s actually shaved her head for this performance!

The stunning production of Wit was fresh in my mind when I went to see Art two nights later, but the latter did not live up to my inflated expectations.

Art is a French play that was translated into English and won awards in both languages. It tells the story of three longtime friends who are facing a crisis point in their relationships with one another; to put it simply, Art is an 80-minute argument.

The instigation for the argument is a $200,000 painting bought by Serge (Nicholas d Cardona), a 4-foot by 5-foot white painting with white diagonal lines in the foreground. Serge’s best friend, Marc (David Seibert), sees the painting as a symbol of Serge’s abandonment of him for the artsy crowd. The third man, Yvan (Paul Kiser), is a spineless goofball who just wants everyone to get along.

The actors did fine work, but I didn’t find the repartee to be all that witty, just bitchy. I also couldn’t shake the sense that three guys do not sit around discussing their relationships in this manner: “I love you, but I feel abandoned by you, and this hurts me.” That is, unless they’re drunk or one of them is dying. Maybe French guys are more in touch with their feelings.

I’m willing to concede that I may just not "get it," but I’m not sure the average theater-goer will either. It’s not a bad play by any means, but it’s nothing to write home about.