Mary tackles life-and-death issues in new production of award-winning Wit

Mary McHugh and cast during the Galway Youth and Community Theatre rehearsals for Wit for Galway International Arts Festival. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.
Mary McHugh and cast during the Galway Youth and Community Theatre rehearsals for Wit for Galway International Arts Festival. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Wit is the dramatic offering from Galway Youth and Community Theatre for this year’s Arts Festival. Directed by Andrew Flynn, the lead role of Vivian Bearing is played by Mary McHugh in a play that deals with a subject that’s close to home for the Headford woman.

Written by Washington-born Margaret Edson, Wit focuses on the final hours of Vivian, a 50-year-old English professor with terminal cancer, who has been on experimental chemotherapy.

It sounds dark, but it has lots of humour, says Mary, because in spite of her illness, Vivian offers wry observations on how medical people speak to her and each other.

An academic, who specialised in the work of metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631), Vivian believes in furthering people’s knowledge. For that reason, signed up for experimental treatment despite a poor prognosis.

“She had made a decision in her 20s to contribute to knowledge and human life and now she can’t stop,” says Mary.

An only child, Vivian never married or had children and doesn’t really have friends either. So, she finds it difficult to deal with people who show her kindness or compassion.

“She thought being smart would take care of everything,” says Mary, but thanks to oncology nurse Susie, who demonstrates kindness and compassion alongside competence, Vivian learns otherwise.

Margaret Edson drew on experience of working as an administrator in a hospital cancer ward as part of the inspiration for her play. While she struggled for four years to get it staged, it went on to win the 1999 Pulitzer prize for drama and was made into a film in 2001, featuring Emma Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Eileen Atkins.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.