Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Long Burst of Useless Info

It's late. Chad, Christy, Abbie, Jr, Ben, and I stayed up late putting the finishing touches on the media and general layout for tomorrow's grove. I might be stroking my own ego here, but I think the media/atmosphere team is the ass-kickinest team around. And not only because we are the only team that would openly say "ass-kickenest" without feeling guilty. We sat around for over an hour sketching out plans for the remainder of the gatherings based on the seven deadly sins, and extra little tidbits of humorous fun we plan to have over the next five months. There are some great minds on this team.

And they let me work with them, too. Amazing!

I went to see “Wit” yesterday with each of the aforementioned ass kickers and several other people (who also kick ass, but in different arenas) such as Katie and the Poindexters. Christy’s sister Aimee performed the play for her senior theater project at Cedarville University.

I saw the movie version with Emma Thompson several years ago while I was up late trying to sleep. We had HBO On Demand at the time (it’s not usually worth the price of admission, but in this case it was a good find) and the mere name – Wit – appealed to my pretentious, egotistical nature. I had an economics exam the next day and I remember staying up all night just to watch it twice. It was that good.

Plus, it was just an econ exam. How hard could it be?

The play was much better than the movie. The intimate nature of the source material naturally lends power to the experience, but I think the main reason for my enjoyment was Aimee’s acting. It was her interpretation of the character. In the script, Vivian Bearing describes herself as uncompromising, heartless, and coldly academic so many times you have to rub your head from all the bludgeoning. She does not appear to do this as a means of self-deprecation, however, and this was Miss Thompson's main failing. The point of the play is the knowledge and respect of life as we have it; to smile at its peaks and grit your teeth through the valleys; to connect with others on both an intellectual and an emotional level; and to accept, while perhaps not understanding, the gifts of life and joy and salvation God has given us.

Dr. Bearing’s life up to the beginning of the play, its “final two hours,” as she tells us, has been the polar opposite. She is an academic. She is a scholar. She does not react to things with emotion and feeling, and the text is rife with examples. Jason and Dr. Kelekian’s clinical disinterest in treating Dr. Bearing merely as “research” is a prime example. The juxtaposition of these two with the good-natured naiveté of the warm and loving nurse is another. Dr. Bearing herself laments her past relational mistakes both with her students and with her mentor, Dr. Ashford, in which she fails to comprehend the meaning of warmth and love and the simplicity of human companionship.

Dr. Bearing is a cold woman. She is alone.

In the movie version, Emma Thompson portrays a bumbling yet somehow lovable professor whose repeated claims of uncompromising adherence to high standards seem more like endearing and false humility than a true recognition of moral failing. She makes off-handed comments about the actions of the play that seem more like jovial witticisms than the true social ineptitude that comes with reclusive academics such as herself. She walks with an easy grace that says, “I’m not really a social misfit, but I play one on television … or in this case a movie.”

Aimee’s Dr. Bearing is significantly more edgy. She is confused by banal conversation and the repeated requests for medical history questionnaires. She marches around her room with her arms crossed in front of her as though she were lecturing, as though the answer to this new problem is not her inability to comprehend what it means to live a full life but rather lies within some unseen paradox, some unsolved complication that will soon release the cold, academic truth; if only she puts her mind to work.

It is this confused coldness that results in a great deal of the ironic humor early on and an increased heartrending sadness as the play progresses towards its climax. When she makes snide comments to the various nurses and doctors who run their tests, she does so because she truly doesn’t know what else to say. And thus, as Aimee portrays the character, the humor shines as opposed to Miss Thompson’s version, which elicits a few small chuckles and a great many "isn't she cute" flutters within the heart.

In the script, Dr. Bearing cites a sonnet by Donne in which he describes his fear of death. At first he is sure of himself and capable of accepting God’s love and salvation, but in the end he runs and hides anyway. He cannot accept that he was wrong about life. He cannot believe that salvation is that easy.

Miss Thompson’s character appears to have redeemed herself before the play even starts. The play is merely her admission of mistakes. It sounds like a Hollywood cliché and that may indeed be the case, but that is not how I read the play. I see professor Bearing lamenting her mistakes and recognizing her failure to truly love life, but in the end I think the author’s intent was to have Dr. Bearing either not quite accept the easy truth of God’s love (as the aforementioned sonnet describes), or admit that she can’t bring herself to accept it on her own accord. If she is redeemed in the end it is God’s doing, not hers. This is infinitely more human.

In an early discussion between Dr. Bearing as a student and Dr. Ashford as her professor, the mentor criticizes the young woman for her use of an incorrect text which, with a slight change of punctuation, creates melodrama and thus a caricature of death as something that looms on the horizon, large and menacing and needlessly dramatic. Dr. Bearing responds, “Oh, I get it. It’s wit.” And Dr. Ashford says, “No, it isn’t.” She tells Vivian that the correct sonnet represents the line between this life and the next; a mere pause; an inhale of breath: simple, easy, normal. Dr. Bearing fails to understand and thus we have the context of the play.

As her character succumbed to the cancer that killed her, Aimee spoke the following words, “Death, capital D, thou shalt be no more. Semi-colon. Death, capital D, thou shalt die! Exclamation point! … Sorry.” In my opinion, she was saying, “I just don’t get it! I tried. I really tried, but I just don't get it!” In my opinion, she was finally admitting her inability to comprehend salvation; she admitted it didn't make sense and that maybe it wasn't supposed to. She was giving up on her cold, calculating side, and allowing God to take over and do his thing. This was the point of the play, and Aimee captured this sentiment perfectly. Miss Thompson, I fear, never saw this aspect of the play within the text as it was written. She never got beyond wit.

Which, given the context of the play is, itself, ironic.

I could be wrong though. I have degrees in computers and Strategic Management, not literary and theatrical analysis. So what do I know?

Congratulations, Aimee, on a superb performance. Not only was it immensely entertaining, it forced me to look at the play in a new light; to consider avenues I had not previously seen. And you made me smile the whole way (except for when you died...I wasn't smiling then. I wasn't supposed to.). Congratulations.

I forgot to mention that Christy, Aimee's sister and Chad's wife, was also in the play. She did not merely attend as I incorrectly stated earlier. Christy played Dr. Ashford, Dr. Bearing's mentor, and was on stage for the death scene. She spoke the line, "May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," which brought a lump to my throat, even though I knew it was coming.

(image stolen from Tim. Thanks Tim!)

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