Pier One delves into 'life, death and poetry'

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

Bonita Banks will throw up seven times this week.

But that's not what has her worried. It's the other hour and 24 minutes of the next Pier One Theatre drama, "W;T," in which Banks plays a woman with ovarian cancer, that have her anxious.

"I've lived and breathed it for the past two months," said Banks, for whom this show marks her first leading role. "I do not want to go on stage and have people see Bonita. I want them to completely forget that they know me. I want them to be seeing a 50-year-old professor going through hell."

The play, written by Margaret Edson in 1991, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999. It tells the story of Vivian Bearing, a scholar and professor of 17th century poetry, who has an advanced stage of ovarian cancer. The entire play takes place while Vivian is in a hospital room, although there are some flashbacks to earlier days.

While the play contains a heavy dose of poetry and medicine, it also delves into the reality of facing mortality.

Edson's only work, "W;T" contains heavy doses of poetry by John Donne, a 17th century poet who focused much of his later work on dying. And while Vivian may know a lot about poetry, she apparently missed a few lessons in civility.

Banks concedes that her character is challenging.

"I hope to initially be able to put across what a tough, demanding, uncompromising woman she lived her life as," she said. "Through her illness, she gets to a place where she really needs kindness from others, and she realizes she never let her guard down enough to give kindness to others through her life."

In addition to Banks, the cast in the theater's final performance of the season include Peter Norton as a doctor and Vivian's father, Paul Jones, Corey Watson as a nurse, Barbara Petersen as Vivian's mentor, Lisa Thomas as a technician and graduate student, and Chelsae Gagnon, Carolyn Norton and Jerami Youngblood as students and members of a medical team.

Director Kathleen Balsemo said having several members of the cast who are involved with medical work in real life helped add realism to the many medical-related scenes in the play. But even so, it is theater.

"We are not trying to perfectly portray what it is like to be in a hospital. We just do what we can to suggest it," she said.

The final scene, however, does stay relatively true to medical procedure and includes "two seconds of nudity," Banks said. While that may be a first for Pier One Theatre, Banks said it is "quite appropriate in its symbolism."

Overall, Balsemo said, the play is likely to appeal to many.

All the subjects addressed in the play, the medical terminology, all the information on cancer, are perfectly structured," she said. "It really puts you in this world. (Edson's) talking about things that I really care about: life, death and poetry."

Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.

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