Why You Should Not Be Afraid to See CenterStage's W;t: An Interview with Artistic Director John Leffert

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CenterStage’s Artistic Director John Leffert has exceptional taste in theater and chose Margaret Edson's W;t for the next production in the 2013-2014 series. For those of you who might be puzzled over why you might want to see a play about cancer, I wanted to give Mr. Leffert the chance to tell you why.

Lou.com: CenterStage is primarily known for producing musicals. Why did you feel it was important to choose a drama this time around?

John Leffert: With both of my parents passing away of cancer, it’s always been an important piece to me ever since I read it. And now I felt like was the right time to do it.

Lou.com: You discussed how some might not be aware of the cancers that aren’t at the forefront of the media. How do think that choosing this dramatic play might change the way people view those kinds of cancer or talk about it?

JL: Vivian in this show didn’t have an exam for two to three years. By that time, she had the [ovarian] tumor the size of a grapefruit. My mother passed away of a very rare cancer of her salivary glands, and she was diagnosed for two years with a sinus infection. I think it’s also important to know that this character is going through research at the time. The treatment that this character is going through in W;t doesn’t even exist anymore due to extreme side effects. We’re making strides, but we still have a long way to go.

Lou.com: Then that’s a very important objective to this play.

JL: Absolutely. This character uses the analysis of John Donne’s sonnets to inspire and [contemplate] life questions like, what is life? What is death? What is the ever after? She does it through wit and humor, and that’s where the title came from. Margaret Edson spent a lot of time in these fields, but she didn’t end up writing a lot of pieces after this. I think she feels like it couldn’t get better.

Lou.com: That speaks a lot about this play then. She put all of her heart and soul into this one piece.

JL: It does. The way she put this all together I think is absolutely brilliant. About 95% of this script relies on just one actor talking to the audience.

Lou.com: And which actress is that?

JL: Carol Tyree Williams is playing our Dr. Vivian Barring. And she has actually done the role before and she is incredibly talented. She is doing an amazing job. She has a lot to say and this character has a lot to say.  

Lou.com: What mattered most to you in casting the lead role? What drew you to this actress, aside from her experience of having lived in this role?

JL: Well, this character is so strong and she is so smart and passionate and deep. Carol has all these qualities as a person. It takes an actress that is willing to go to those places. Vivian takes quite an arc in this show. It takes an actress to really dig deep inside herself and take this journey, and to be able to shave their head. She’s just perfect for the role. As soon as she walked through the door and delivered one of the monologues-

Lou.com: You knew?

JL: I was like, there you have it.

Lou.com: Obviously, cancer is a serious topic. There may be people reluctant to see this play. Why should they see W;t?

JL: I have found it incredibly therapeutic. It’s great to sit in a room with a lot of people that have common thoughts and common things they have gone through. It’s healthy to go through all of those emotions. You have to be open enough within yourself to sit and just let yourself experience this. I think it’s rare we get to see a piece on stage as brilliant as W;t is. This is one of those shows I think you could see five times and get different feelings from it, because there’s that much to see. It might open your mind. It doesn’t have to be a fearful subject. It’s going to be a life-changing piece for everyone involved, including the cast.

Lou.com: I know, as you mentioned, that this play is very personal to you, because of your parents. How difficult was it for you to direct this play under these circumstances? And based on that, what did you learn in braving that challenge?

JL: Well, I don’t think I could have done it before now. It was important for me to present this in a way that perhaps could give people more compassion. I’m excited to present this piece. I know that sounds kind of odd, but I’m passionate about this piece, and I’m passionate about people understanding it and people understanding what people going through this are going through.

**

CenterStage is shining awareness through partnership with organizations like Gilda’s Club, Hosparus, OAK, and Sharsheret. When you see the show, you can interact with the Wall of Hope that can be found in the lobby. If you have lost a loved one to cancer, or are currently battling it, reach out and write a heartfelt message to see that you are not alone.

This Pulitzer-prize winning play will be showing from February 13 through February 23, 2014 at the JCC Linker Auditorium. Rush tickets are limited, and are $10 per ticket for evening performances on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. All other tickets are $18 per person in advance and $20 at the door. 

Dial 502-459-0660 or visit CenterStageJCC.org for more information on booking tickets for this show or future shows in the season (which you most definitely should). Don't miss out on what is sure to be a defining, masterful piece of theater.

Top Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock/Filipes Matos Frazao

About Julie Lamb
Curly-haired owner of one massive sweet tooth, believer of Harry Potter and Disney fairytales, and a fierce lover of all things literary and the arts.
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