For me the play is not about cancer, it’s about humanity.” That was the sentiment of Richard Wallace, one of the leading actors about Theatre Tuscaloosa’s new undertaking. W;t premiered Friday, February 20th at the Bean-Brown Theater on Shelton State’s campus. As executive producer Tina Turley noted, “this is the all-star team of acting,” and after a wild roller coaster of crying and laughter, opening night was met with a standing ovation from a packed house.
The show begins with a crumbling of the fourth wall of the stage. The audience is an active participant in the story, told by Vivian Bearing, played by Drew Baker. Dr. Bearing has been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and as she promptly admits, “there is no stage five.” The script takes form of a Shakespearean Tragedy, in that we know how the story ends before it even begins. But this “spoiler” doesn’t mean the audience can’t experience the widest range of human emotion possible inside a theater.
The role that Baker takes on is nothing short of daunting. For an hour and a half of script, Ms. Baker never leaves the stage. The role became physically daunting as well, with Ms. Baker choosing to shave her head to better represent the character.
“Cancer victims don’t have that choice,” Baker said. “I never knew how emotional it would be, until [the barber] turned the chair around and I saw it. It’s something I had to do for the character.” Baker takes the role and reflects it back to the audience in perfect form. Showing both vulnerability and strength, Drew Baker uses her wealth of experience to bring life to Vivian Bearing.
W;t is directed by Jeff Wilson, who called upon 30 years of experience to put on the Pulitzer Prize-winning production.
“It’s basically what directors do. Keep the car out of the ditch,” Wilson said. The “car” here is the wonderfully written script that would be fantastic just with a pure interpretation. W;t was written by Margaret Edson, who after multiple rejections won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999 and an Emmy Award for best film in 2001.
“Luckily we have a great playwright,” said Wilson. “We see all these different lessons of emotions. There’s so much character life.”
W;t shows off an outstanding supporting cast led by Carol DeVelice and Gary Wise. DeVelice plays E. M. Ashford, a professor in English and friend of protagonist Vivian Bearing. There is a distinct element of English Literature in the play, emphasized by DeVelice’s academic presence.
The sophistication of the characters Ashford and Bearing makes for a challenging script that is never dull, and always challenging the mind.
“I hope it makes you question,” DeVelice said. The actress is a cancer survivor herself, and she said her experience added to the show.
“This show has incredible meaning for me,” DeVelice said. “This show is so valid.”
Valid is not a word Ms. DeVelice chooses by accident. This show at its core is true to the struggle of someone fighting cancer, up until the very end.
Mr. Wise plays Dr. Kelekian, Dr. Bearing’s chief doctor. Wise effortlessly transitions between doctor and father, as the set changes around Bearing’s experiences and memories. “It is such a difficult subject matter, and a wonderfully written play. I wanted to support Drew Baker that is playing this role, which is a massive undertaking.” said Wise.
Overall, Theatre Tuscaloosa delivers with W;t. Amid the spurts of laughter, you’ll find tears from most members of the audience. The experience is best summed up by DeVelice: “The true beauty of W;t is that it makes you experience all of these emotions. [Emotions] that we sometimes are afraid to delve into.”
For more about W;t, and how to buy tickets, visit Showtimes are listed through Sunday, March 1.

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