It wasn’t all those lines that gave Sarah Dacey-Charles pause. The New York-based actress knew that portraying a woman dying of cancer in the long one-act “Wit” would be challenging.
But shaving her head for the part made Dacey-Charles think twice about accepting the offer to star in the Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play March 13 – 31 at the Bangor Opera House. In the end, the role of poetry professor Vivian Bearing was too tempting to turn down.
“I decided that my hair would grow back,” the 50-year-old actress said earlier this month.
Artistic director Bari Newport chose the story of an English professor undergoing an experimental treatment for cancer in order to spark a dialogue.
“The Bangor community’s unique confluence of science and academia led me to wonder what the theater could do to facilitate a conversation between the two,” she said last month. “‘Wit’ does so naturally and in the most beautiful and elegant manner.”
Newport and Los Angeles-based director Kappy Kilburn have planned special events around the play’s theme, including a story slam featuring the tales of cancer survivors; an exhibit of photographs of breast cancer patients; and a panel discussion featuring local physicians, psychologists and clergy.
As part of their research for the production, Kilburn, Dacey-Charles and other cast members recently visited an intensive care unit at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
“When they talked about what they do to revive a patient, which happens in the play, the nurses talked about how each person has a very specific job to do,” Kilburn said. “It was almost as if they were describing a dance. We’ve talked about that in rehearsals. It should resemble a dance.”
The biggest challenge to performing “Wit” at the Bangor Opera House was to make the production feel intimate for the audience in the 300-plus seat theater with a traditional proscenium stage. To accomplish that, set designer Dan Bilodeau extended the edge of the stage almost to the front row of seats.
“It should feel like they are in Vivian’s hospital room with her,” Kilburn said of the audience.
Despite the questions raised by playwright Edson about death and dying, the play is humorous and life-affirming, according to Dacey-Charles.
“It’s about a woman who finds grace at the end of her life,” the actress said of the play.
Local actors Zachary A. Robbins, Amelia Forman-Stiles, Bernard Hope, Alison Cox, Emma Howard, Abby Kimball and Nathan Roach round out the cast.
For more information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org. Cancer patients or survivors may get a free ticket for every ticket they purchase.