REVIEWED BY T.H. McCULLOH
The intricate web of Michael Cristofer’s Pulitzer Prize drama is spun throughout a shadowbox of life . . . and death. Not only is there the physical shadow box in which three patientsfind themselves as they near the end, there are also the shadow boxes we live in our day to day existence. Or lack of existence. Joe, Brian and Felicity are more than fascinating characters: they are metaphors for the mean traps in which we allow ourselves to become enmeshed during our brief moment of awareness on this physical plane. The dreams we plan which we never implement, the precious ticking seconds we waste, the useless self-pity of our reveries: they are us and they are the backbone of Christofer’s powerful indications of the struggle in stay alive at all cost.
The author’s impressionistic dashes and dots of wisdom, compassion and humor have never been more evident than in this exceptional production at Theatre East. Director Stewart Moss not only reaches into the guts of the play to wrench it into life but balances the heartbreak and spirit of Cristofer’s characters with a boldness and yet a delicacy, which comes with a solid grasp of craft and rare understanding of the private moments of the damned. And in this production the private moments of the damned refer not only to the dying but to those who are violently angry at what they feel is the injustice of their loss.
The stunning simplicity and truth of Marie Windsor’s Felicity, pale gray in tone and with a voice like tearing parchment reverberates against the rose-colored desperation of David Knapp’s Brian, a fine study of a man who has both nothing and too much to live for. John La Motta’s warm, gentle Joe maintains a carefully fluctuating level between the fatalism and hope of the other two. Joe is the one who knows how to die and La Motta expertly layers his performance with detail and color. Their “loved ones” gather about them in varying degrees of acceptance, on so many levels of understanding. On stage as in reality they reach out for help from the dying. Bobbi Jordan’s exquisitely masochistic Agnes is just a slightly less pale version of her mother, wringing her futile seconds from what is left of her own life. Joe’s Maggie is a dervish of fear and insecurity barely hiding an earthy humor in Susan Quick’s deft portrayal and Matt Adler brings an honesty to the role of the son which is beyond his years. Marianne McAndrew revels in the open humor of Brian’s ex-wife Beverly and she is perfectly balanced by Stephen Nichols’ starchy, soft-centered reading of Brian’s lover, Mark. The calm authority of Del Monroe’s Interviewer ties the whole into a neat knot. An exceptional cast, beautifully directed.
Jack Colvin is credited with production design (a frequent Theatre East credit) which seems to indicate he designed everything except J. Kent Insay’s painterly, thoughtful lighting, which as much as anything else defines the moods and sweep of the play. As the setting, decoration and costumes are all excellent a deep bow goes to Colvin. A simple haunting musical theme by Ted Donaldson introduces each act properly. This is a Shadow Box to be proud of.