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Wednesday, July 17, 2024


June 18, 2003 – St. John's Epiphany Theater Company opens its summer production, "The Shadow Box," on Thursday at a new venue – Pine Peace School.
The award-winning drama interweaving the lives of three terminally ill patients and their loved ones will be performed through Sunday and then again on the following Thursday through Sunday, June 26-29.
Playwright Michael Cristofer received both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play in 1997. The adult drama has been hailed by critics for its insight, perceptiveness and humor in dealing with controversial themes.
Emotions run the gamut – denial, anger, confrontation, resentment, remorse and reminiscence high among them. But above all else, "this play is about hope," Frank Bartolucci, who's directing the production, says.
"The Shadow Box" has three settings – three hospice cottages. In them, the three stories unfold, at first serially, and then toward the end of each of the play's two acts, simultaneously. In each, the person who is dying is surrounded by loved ones; all are trying to face and make sense of death.
Individually, Bartolucci says, the four patients must "travel through their own personal hell until they emerge out the other side into heaven. When they do, they no longer are characters we are watching but very purposefully break the fourth wall [the edge of the stage] and engage the audience, demanding that we don't live our dying but, rather, live our lives every moment, every day."
First there is Joe, a working-class husband and father who is open about his fate, saddened by what he has not accomplished. His wife, Maggie, is in classic denial, refusing even to enter his cottage; she has not told their teen-age child of Joe's condition.
Second is Brian, a former professor who is brutally forthright about his pending demise, seeking to free himself of emotions and experiences, so as "to not leave anything behind." His family is his intense younger lover, Mark. That is, until Brian's alcoholic and desperately unhappy ex-wife, Beverly, arrives to visit them.
Third is Felicity, a blind, crippled, sometimes confused and cantankerous old lady. Hers has been a colorful life, but she is acutely aware of her own decline and decay. With her is her long-suffering, dutiful daughter, Agnes. Absent in body but very much in their emotional midst is Felicity's other, long-absent daughter, Clare, for whom she yearns.
The other key character of the play is the offstage "interviewer" whose disembodied voice intrudes periodically as the play progresses, eliciting insights into the other characters through questioning.
Reviewers point out the not-quite double entendre of the title: A shadow box is a container for display purposes, opaque on the back and sides with clear glass at the front – not unlike a theater stage, and not unlike the three cottages as the audience views them. But "shadow boxing" is an exercise in discipline with an imaginary opponent.
According to publicity from Epiphany, the brilliance of Cristofer's work and its success at dealing with such subject matter is that "it draws no moral conclusions," but "only offers various perspectives for the audience to ponder without compromising the serious side of terminal illness."
The cast has Tim Jackson as Joe, Ruthellen Mulberg as Maggie, Erin Squibb as Stephanie, Mark Corbeil as Brian, Jason Bartlette as Mark, Liza Mostsinsker as Beverly, Carole DeSenne as Felicity, Cynthia Smith as Agnes, Paul Devine as the interviewer.
The not-for-profit Epiphany Theater Company, now in its fourth season, has previously presented "Bus Stop," "The Tender Trap," "Picnic," "The Fantasticks" and, as a fund-raiser, "Feiffer's People." Most of them were staged at The Marketplace. The company "encourages members of the entire St. John community to participate at all levels of creative expression through the theater arts," a release states.
For more information, call DeSenne at 643-4838.

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