Beyond the `Shadow' of death

Shadow Box' opens at the Acrosstown, offering a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Hospice fund-raiser

Published: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 11:36 p.m.

About 16 years ago, Rick Mach played a character named Mark, a gay man facing the impending death of his partner in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Shadow Box."

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Ian Ison stars as Brian and Kelly Dugan stars as his ex-wife, Beverly, in the award- winning drama "The Shadow Box" at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun



"The Shadow Box"
WHAT: Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Michael Cristofer. Benefit for Hospice of North Central Florida.
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Thursday and runs Thursday-Saturday through Jan. 24
WHERE: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
TICKETS: Benefit tickets (50 percent goes to Hospice) $18; general admission $9 for adults and $7 for students. (352-378-9166)

The show ran in Chicago about a year after Mach lost his father after a brief illness that followed a stroke. He was still struggling with the loss as he joined this heavy drama about dying. Life was imitating art it seemed, but this wasn't exactly a cruel irony.

Just the opposite.

"It helped me heal," said Mach, now a Gainesville resident who is directing the same show at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

Opening Thursday night at the Acrosstown, "The Shadow Box" traces the gamut of human emotions on death, from compassion to denial to humor. As such, this production also will serve as a benefit for Hospice of North Central Florida, an agency that assists terminally ill patients and their families.

"The Shadow Box" weaves together three vignettes with dying people at their center. And while Michael Cristofer's 1977 Tony Award-winning work is a tear jerker, it also is a celebration of life, the Acrosstown cast contends.

"It's such a beautiful play," Mach said this week before a rehearsal. "It's something I think everybody should have the chance to see."

Make no mistake, this play is not a series of grim deathbed scenes with tear-stained cheeks on all faces. There is a healthy dose of brevity here - even a bit of wild abandon - as three very different families face the inevitable in very different ways.

Death, the dying Brian proclaims, "is the one thing in this world you can be sure of." He is choosing to face death with a paintbrush in one hand and a poet's pen in the other. He is a Renaissance man who can't stop talking about his new thirst for life in its final moments.

He doesn't want to stop talking, perhaps, as a quaking fear festers under his new creative layer. "The only problem with dying is you only do it once," the character tells his wild, not-so-sober ex-wife as his smile fades and his body starts to shake.

Brian lives with his lover, Mark. And after a surprise visit by the booze-toting ex-wife, Beverly, they serve in stark contrast to Joe and his family, a working-class trio whose matron refuses to believe Joe is dying.

The third family centers on a feisty, foul-mouthed, wheelchair-bound mother, Felicity, and her dutiful daughter, Agnes; this is not exactly a mother-daughter relationship worthy of Norman Rockwell's attention and,

therefore, the perspective is all the more intriguing.

Set in three cabins, the play is tied together by an off-stage interviewer whose questions provide deeper windows into the characters. This show is not for children, as it is peppered with adult language and situations.

But it is certainly fodder for adults, Mach said, a brilliantly written work about something everybody faces. It's an honest, accurate and appropriate fund-raiser for Hospice, an organization that knows all too well the varied emotional paths between dying loved ones and healing families.

Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or

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