Stellar cast fuels powerful 'Box'

Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 15, 2004 at 11:28 p.m.
The last words spoken in "The Shadow Box" are "Yes" and "This moment." They are powerful affirmations of life spoken by the dying and those who care for them in the Michael Christofer play now at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.
With "The Shadow Box," Christofer has written a beautifully balanced choral poem, as well as a compelling drama about terminally ill people. Rich Mach directs with grace and precision, assembling a gifted cast that creates true characters.
The play revolves around three families, each inhabiting a cottage at a California hospice. Often, they are on stage simultaneously and, sometimes, speak simultaneously. But they do not address each other. The timing of their performances must be exact.
Exact, it is. Joe, a working man, resides in the first cottage. On this day, his wife and son arrive to visit. Joe, who is attempting to deal with his imminent death, suddenly finds himself in the role of comforter to his wife, Maggie, who refuses to believe he is dying.
Brian, a non-stop talker who makes pronouncements on a multitude of esoteric topics, inhabits the second cottage with his lover, Mark. Brian's former wife, Beverly, a free spirit who still loves her ex, comes to visit. Of all the characters, Beverly is the strongest. She's smart; she's fun; she's out there; she calls a spade a spade. Beverly seems to have learned the secret to living life for every moment.
In the third cottage, Agnes cares for Felicity, her old, very sick mother. Felicity is demanding, forgetful, ungrateful and pitiful in her suffering. Agnes caters to her patiently, all the while desperately wishing for the ordeal to end.
Unseen but heard is The Interviewer, who asks the characters questions that attempt to plumb their psyches. The Interviewer, as a device, works well enough in posing questions to the terminally ill, questions they'd rather not address in some instances. The Interviewer is just a bit reminiscent of a disembodied Stage Manager from Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." She is responsible for moving the actors and explaining behavior.
In "The Shadow Box," characters look at life and consider how quickly time passes. They ask what it all meant, what did they achieve and wasn't there suppose to be something more? And they rail at dying.
The entire cast is perfect. Brilliant and moving performances are given by Bill Sabis as Joe, Cindy Lasley as Maggie and Terry Funke as their son. Ian Isom is the flamboyant, motor-mouthed Brian. Judd Johnson plays the brooding, heart-sick Mark. Kelly Dugan is the irrepressible Beverly, who's done it all and is ready for more. Rosalie Esteves Preston gives an exquisite, controlled performance as the much put-upon Agnes, who waits upon her mother, Felicity, played by Estelle Aden with strength and pity for her character.
It may seem strange to recommend a play that deals with death. But, in a curious way, "The Shadow Box" is as much about living as it is about dying. Performed perfectly at ART, it deserves the attention of serious theater-goers.

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