To stage the cancer-themed play W;t, A Public Fit theater company reached out to women who know the subject
Ginger Tangedal hadn’t seen Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, W;t, when she was asked to consult with a local theater company for the one-act drama, in which a callous but accomplished academic is dying of ovarian cancer and learning her most surprising lesson in life.
That Vivian, the play’s heroine, dies is no secret. W;t is about life, staged in the face of death.
Still, when Tangedal, a former hairdresser from Orange County, finally watched the HBO movie, she could only do so in 20-minute increments. “It was tough,” she says, straying only momentarily from the upbeat personality she maintains even while living with Stage 3 ovarian cancer, which required the removal of her colon. “But I’m one of the fortunate ones. I have kept my sense of humor. My colostomy really keeps my sense of humor intact.”
Humor creeps into the poignant journey of W;t, despite the tragedy of the disease, with which more than 20,000 women are diagnosed annually. “Touching, well-written, and complicated,” is how A Public Fit Theatre Company’s co-founder Ann Marie Pereth describes Edson’s work. To effectively stage it, she sought input. Barbara Cadwell, nurse practitioner and director of chemotherapy at Women’s Cancer Center, welcomed Pereth’s call. She loaned wheelchairs, pumps, and other medical tools for the production, sat in on rehearsals, and has shown actors how to give a medical exam, catheterize, and use chemo bags. She also connected Pereth to Tangedal. The two spent hours together, Pereth gaining invaluable perspective on the disease from the still-vibrant patient. “She’s living well,” Pereth says with evident fondness. “And she’s going to die well.”
There is no early test for the disease and no cure, but Tangedal says her own cancer could have been detected earlier in a physical exam had she not heeded the advice that women her age didn’t need annual exams. Aside from the “killer chemo,” her own life couldn’t be further in character from that of the protagonist, a 50-year-old poetry professor (played by Tina Rice), who has opted for knowledge over compassion. Vivian’s life’s work has been the metaphysical poetry of the semicolon-loving John Donne, and she has no close friends. The same can’t be said of Tangedal, who attended a couple of fundraisers for A Public Fit — including one in which she gave a “hilarious” reading of Laura from The Glass Menagerie.
“We live our lives as if we’re immortal until it comes slapping us in the face,” Pereth says. “Whether you’re a self-actualized person or not, we all hope that in our last hour there is a humanity in us.”
Through Nov. 19
$25-$30, A Public Fit’s The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland
Cancer ha ha
“Pitch black” is, not surprisingly if you know his work, how theater provocateur Ernest Hemmings describes the humor of his new play, Cancer Dog. Premise: A woman with terminal cancer throws an “end of life” party at which she intends to kill herself rather than battle the disease. But no one shows up! What follows, we’re promised, is a “vodka-champagne-drenched meltdown.” Pitch black, indeed! But you can’t argue with the talent onstage: Breon Jenay, Gail Romero, and Breanna Folger. Nov.2-13, $10-$20, Center for Science and Wonder, tstmrkt.com