BWW Review: THE SHADOW BOX at Spotlighters Theatre
The Spotlighters Theatre presents a beautifully rendered adaptation of THE SHADOW BOX, Michael Cristofer's award winning play on mortality and how we learn to live in the shadow of death. First produced in 1977, it received both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Two definitions for the title of the play set the parameters in which its themes develop. To shadow box is to box with an imaginary opponent, while a shadow box is a case with a glass front to protect and display the items within it.
Over the course of one day, three cottages on the grounds of a hospital serve as the backdrop for three terminally ill patients and their loved ones as they confront death and what their lives have meant. They are observed, counseled and studied by an invisible interviewer (the soothing voice of Rodney Bonds) where they reveal their deepest struggles and fears. How does one negotiate the relationships and priorities of the living while learning to let go of life itself?
Joe (Jim Hart), Brian (Tom Wyatt) and Felicity(Deborah Bennett) may be different in every way, but they have arrived at the last stage together. As they visit with loved ones, the unresolved and repressed bubble to the surface. Joe's wife Maggie (Maribeth Vogel) is in denial about her husband's illness and won't even enter the cottage. Nor has she told their son, Steve (Lincoln Goode), that his father is dying. Brian seeks to fulfill his last artistic yearnings but finds himself mediating between his ex-wife, Beverly(Holly Pasciullo), and his current boyfriend, Mark(Caleb Brooks). Felicity (Deborah Bennett) is older and wheelchair-bound. She is cared for by her daughter, Agnes (Sarah George), who is desperate to appease her mother and bring her to a point of peace.
Director Sharon D. Weaver deftly weaves the stories together to reveal the dignity of each character's life while sensitively dealing with the indignities and challenges that accompany the last stages of living. There is physical deterioration and confusion and messy emotions, but there is also tender reminiscence, sincere apologies and the beauty and peace of insight.
This excellent ensemble of actors offers heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking portraits of the human condition. Hart's Joe is a quiet hero, more concerned with his wife's pain than his own demise. Hart shows us there is nothing average in Joe's love for his family. Vogel makes the audience feel the anguish behind her denial about Joe's prognosis and her need to protect the innocence of their son, whom Goode makes blissfully unaware. We may wish to return to that state of ignorance at the same time we realize it is better to know and deal with reality. And there are things we cannot avoid. This family shows the progression of that awareness and how it can set you free.
Wyatt serves as the heart of the whole story as eccentric artist Brian, who is more philosophical and accepting of death than his fellow patients. Pasciullo is delightfully decadent as eternal party girl Beverly. She breezes in to say goodbye to the man she abandoned. She deals with crisis through liqueur and laughter and immediately clashes with Brooks' Caleb, who is hostile to the whole wretched affair even as he cares for Brian. Brooks embodies the stubborn, helpless anger we exhibit when we are faced with the uncontrollable and the inevitable.
Bennett is superb as irascible Felicity, a life force that is not vanquished easily. Her performance is spot on as a woman in the throes of cognitive decline raging against the light as she waits for one last visit from a long deceased daughter. Her counterpart, George, captures all the exasperation and conflicted love of a daughter trying her best to care for her difficult mother. She is on the edge of burnout and we feel it.
The Spotlighters' theater in the round is an ideal setting as it serves as a lens that focuses and refocuses its eye on different aspects of the characters and their lives. In the end, it draws back to view the entirety of the experience and how we are united in celebrating the joy of consciousness just as we are united in knowing it ends. Spotlighters is a small theater that is not afraid to take risks and it pays off with intimate and moving productions. Sometimes, you must brave the shadows to bask in the light.
THE SHADOW BOX plays now thru March 1, 2020 at The Spotlighters Theatre located at 817 St. Paul St. For more information call (410) 752-1225 or go to spotlighters.org