Kim Crow's fourth time portraying Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., will be for American Stage Theatre's production of "Wit." This means that over the past 11 years, Crow has shaved her head four times for Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about an English professor dying of cancer. Call it a gesture of solidarity, if not dedication to her craft.
"Some people would avoid me like the plague. [One] guy thought I was hot. I loved that. Waitresses and nurses would be extremely kind. Folks at Walmart — not so kind. All of it was to honor people fighting the fight," Crow said.
Crow described the character she's played so many times as "a brilliant scholar but hopeless with human beings. She has no human skills at all."
A spinster stickler for proper usage of the English language, Vivian learns she has stage IV ovarian cancer. While hospitalized and undergoing an experimental treatment, she realizes the irony of her situation: healthy, she valued scholarship over human interaction; ill, her worth is reduced from patient to research subject.
Vivian is scared, in pain and alone until a nurse shows her compassion. By the end, the teacher learns a hard-won yet invaluable lesson.
"Her discovery of the kindness from Susie, her nurse, is the greatest discovery of her life. There's joyful redemption. ['Wit'] helps to heal the human heart," said Crow.
Edson integrated some humor into this malignant affair, just to lighten the emotional load a bit. Shakespeare, however, kept laughs to a minimum in "Romeo & Juliet," which also opens tonight at freeFall Theatre.
The 16th century drama is ubiquitous with tragic teenage passions. Two kids from warring families fall in love, secretly marry and die. This is timeless stuff. And consider this: without Romeo and Juliet, there would be no Edward and Bella. Now that would be the real tragedy.
As relatable as the story is, it has to be told well to take full effect. Thankfully, freeFall has mastered this art. The company knows how to soften the blows of Shakespeare's stylized language on modern ears.
As with all of freeFall's Shakespearean shows, the intention is accessibility and clarity. The production has been designed to convey the tone and mood of Romeo and Juliet's harsh environs, allowing theatergoers to feel, rather than translate, their way through the story.
"I didn't want to set it in a specific period," said director Eric Davis. "I needed to capture the martial quality of the world they live in, where there's fighting on the street. The production will look contemporary because the materials are very contemporary: denim, catwalks, steel girders, corrugated metal."
The small cast of eight will require actors to take on two roles. The doubling, though a challenge for the actors as they quickly shift characters, also creates directorial advantages. Consolidated casting opens the way to greater set possibilities and surprises.
"There are going to be paintings of characters in what some would think as traditional dress. Those portraits will help inform the audience who is playing what. For example, when Roxanne Fay is playing the friar, that's the portrait that's lit," Davis said. "One idea for the set is that the text is turned into a visual installation. Objects or images from the play find themselves in a sort of exhibit. Items from shelves get used throughout the show. Also, the fights are always an exciting part for the audience and actors. The front row gets up close and personal with the stage violence."
Romeo & Juliet
When: Oct. 26-Nov. 18; 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: freeFall Theatre Company, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; call (727) 498-5205 or visit www.freefalltheatre.com
How much: $39-$44
When: Oct. 26-Nov. 4; 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Additional Tuesday and Sunday evening performances (8 p.m.), Weekend Twilight performances (5 p.m.) and Wednesday matinee performances (3 p.m.) are scheduled on select dates.
Where: The Palladium Theatre, 253 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg; call (727) 823-7529 or visit www.americanstage.org
How much: $10-$59, depending on date and time of performance