The Shadow Box
Directed by Alexander K. Schiff
Scenic Design by Alex Ryan and Paul Diziel
Costume Design by Antonia Helm
Lighting Design by Alex Nahon
Book by Michael Cristofer
"You get tired of keeping it all inside," says a terminally ill man in "The Shadow Box," the Michael Cristofer play that has been revived at the Classic Theatre at Columbia College Chicago, "but it's like nobody wants to hear about it."
In this compelling dramatic triptych, two terminal cancer patients dwell in separate cottages on a hospital grounds. The tow are attended and visited by family and close friends: Brian and Beverly whose martial complications are exacerbated by Brian's new lover, Mark; and Joe and Maggie, unready for the strain of Joe's impending death and it's effect on their teenage son.
Set in the faceless woodland cottages (Alex Rhyan and Paul Diziel's frankly utilitarian set serves to represent both of them) of a compound for cancer patients, the play presents two of those patients, of radically different backgrounds, as they deal with friends, family members and an anonymous interviewer who steers them through self-analysis.
Joe is a blue-collar worker whose visiting wife is so terrified of losing him that she won't even enter his cottage; it seems to her like a coffin.
There is also Brian, an eccentric, reflective academic, whose relationship with his young lover, Mark, is thrown out of kilter when his flamboyant ex-wife, Beverly, arrives.
The intimacy of the Classic theater enforces the audience's sense of clinical complicity with the interviewer. And there's a feeling that the actors are, on one level, playing directly to us, feeding off the laughs invoked by Mr. Cristofer's gentle gallows humor. "Our dreams are beautiful, our fate is sad," as Brian says of his situation. "But it's generally pretty funny."
The actors do indeed find the comic aspects of their characters' situations without trivializing them. What is often curiously missing is the sense of urgency in their tug of war between hope and despair. Beverly, who is burdened with inspirational statements about the miracle of life, conveys Brian's philosophical contemplativeness but not the visceral fear behind it. His trembling hands seem like an affectation.
THE SHADOW BOX By Michael Cristofer; directed by Alexander K Schiff; sets by Alex Rhyan and Paul Diziel; costumes by Antonia Helm; lighting by Alex Nahon; sound by Alexander K Schiff; stage manager, Jacqueline Widman. Presented by Columbia College Chicago. At 72 E. 11 Street Chicago, IL 60605.
"An important, touching and courageous play...Triumphantly turns up...Cristofer writes with the compassion of the undamned. An extraordinarily good Broadway play with meaty roles for actors."-The New York Times
"Thunders with life."-ABC TV
"By far the finest play of the New York season, beautifully realized drama of sensitive perceptions often as funny as it is moving."-Washington Post
"Extraordinary. An overwhelming emotional experience. Truly startling and in its uncompromising way, very funny."-Boston Globe
Winner of a Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize.