This play, written by actor Michael Cristoffer, had its premiere on Broadway in March 1977. It went on to win that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as taking out the Tony Award for Best Play.
Cristoffer’s play cuts deep. Its subject is that old dreaded subject which us humans have so much trouble dealing with – the impermanence of life and its fragility. And of-course, what goes hand in hand with this – the terrible losses that we suffer along the way.
THE SHADOW BOX is well suited to be performed ar such an intimate venue.
The play takes place over twenty four hours, in three separate cottages on the grounds of a large hospital, in the United States. Within the three cabins are three patients – Joe, Brian and Felicity, who are each to live with their respective families at the final stage of their life, as their treatment has been discontinued.
All three patients have agreed to be part of a psychological scheme where they live within the hospital grounds and have regular ‘check in’ interviews with the psychiatrist running the scheme. We never see the psychiatrist. This character is played by voice over (Jackson Blair-West).
The nub of this drama relates to the very tense relationship situation, for want of a better phrase, that each characters finds themselves in.
Kim Hardwick’s production features one of the most accomplished troupe of actors to ever grace the Old Fitz stage. Their performances, like the play, cut deep.
The first, in time,of this dramatic triptych sees Joe (Mark Lee) find his wife Maggie (Jeanette Cronin) in a terrible state, when she arrives with her son, Steve (Simon Thomson). Maggie isn’t coping with Joe’s’ impending death. She even has trouble just entering his cottage. Maggie hasn’t’ yet had the courage to tell her son the truth.
Lee and Cronin give very heartfelt performances and Thomson is very credible as the hyper son whose behaviour reflects his anxiety.
Brian’s (Tim McGarry) bravado in the face of his death is dissipated by the struggle that tkes place before him between two intimates. His gay lover Mark (Anthony Gooley) has chosen to spend his remaining time with him. Then his former wife, the brazen Beverly (Kate Raison) arrives, and stirs the pot a great deal.
Each of these performances were knockouts, with the actors getting to the heart of their characters- Brian’s’ intensity, Mark’s’ internal conflict, Beverly’s volatility and frankness.
The final in the triptych was spinster Agnes’ (Ella Prince) fraught relationship with her demented mother, Felicity (Fiona Press), who is barely holding onto life. Again, beautifully measured performances by Prince and Press.
Cristoffer manages to bring everything together in very delicate final scene, well realised in Hardwick’s production.
Hardwick’s’ creative team – set and costume designer Isabel Hudson, lighting designer Martin. Kinnane and sound designer Julian Starr – fine tune this stage world for the performers to work in.
Recommended, THE SHADOW BOX, produced by Dino Dimitriadis, is playing the Old Fitzroy Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo until Saturday December 10. Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30 pm and Sundays at 5 pm.
A final note. I attended this production on the opening performance. I had a quick drink after the show and then left.
Walking to my car I went past the theatre’s’ stage door. One of the actresses, I won’t name her, was standing outside, having a smoke. She had been crying. The play had got to her, like it had me.
Yes, it is one of those plays that get to you..shake you up up…like the best plays do.