The show ended with, “it doesn’t last forever, it wasn’t supposed to last forever.” As the actors stood together before their final bow, they looked into the audience and connected with each individual member on one topic: death as a fact of life.
“The Shadow Box,” written by Michael Cristofer, featured a small intimate cast of nine individuals split between three different lives. Their lives were connected in a weave of hospice stories within three different cabins. What was most inspiring from the performance was the intensity each cast member brought to the stage.
A husband, wife and son are featured in the first cabin. As his family is making their way to the cabin, Joe, the husband played by George Schlinck, is being interviewed about his terminal illness.
“For this character I had to really delve into everything that has happened in his life, and we really had to think through this character’s entire life story,” Schlinck said.
As Maggie, the wife played by Samantha Bowers, and Steve, the son played by Sam Corby, arrive Joe greets his family after not seeing them for six months. The son and father share an embrace, but Maggie has difficulty in accepting Joe’s fate.
“I have very supportive women in my life like my aunts and my mother,” Bowers said. “So I took some character traits from them.”
Steve is hidden from his father’s sickness while Maggie is unable to even enter the cabin.
“My character was different in the show since he didn’t know what was going on with his father,” Corby said. “So I thought about my relationship with my father and thought if I haven’t seen him for six months and then one day I will be able to see him what that would be like.”
The lights dim and open into a living room where Mark, played by Hunter Loos, is greeted by his partner’s ex-wife Beverly, played by Effy Ayotte. Beverly is full of life throughout the show, but hides her fear of the forthcoming death of her ex-husband Brian, played by Jonathan Vanegas.
“I drew some influence from television and movie characters,” Ayotte said. “I thought about the woman in ‘The Birdcage’ who was Robin William’s ex-girlfriend, and how their relationship played between the two men and her.”
Mark openly opposes Effy’s surprise visit and showcases his constant frustration throughout the show as well trying to accept his partner’s fate.
“I drew a lot of my influences from my experience of working with my father who had MS, and who passed away,” Loos said. “So I was able to draw from the death experience, the understanding of it and the whole processes that go around it, like being a caretaker.”
When Brian first entered the stage he seemed well. As the show progressed his symptoms began to appear, including trembling and fainting.
“It was hard for me to understand where Brian was at this time,” Vanegas said. “So what I did was watched a bunch of documentaries […] and focused on how his family was reacting to his disease and supporting him.”
Soon the lights pan to a small kitchen where you see an elderly woman, Felicity, screaming “Claire” multiple times. Felicity, played by Ryann Wenke, is waiting for her lost daughter to come home and unite with her family.
“I drew inspiration from women at The Methodist Home for the Aging. Interacting with them helped me develop my character Felicity because she is an elderly woman,” Wenke said. “Also, I am a cancer survivor and that helped me deal with the very important subject matter that the show had.”
Rather than Claire greeting Felicity, another daughter Agnes, played by Christine Nolan, rolls Felicity’s wheelchair into the kitchen. Unlike Felicity’s love for Claire, Agnes’ mother suffering from dementia treats her harshly.
“For me I just tried to think about, like in the next thirty years, if she was my mom and I was dealing with this,” said Nolan.
Throughout the two hours each of the ailing characters were questioned by a non-emotional interviewer, played by Siobhan Connor, who stood off stage. The interviewer simply checked on patients to review their current health and thoughts.
“I went and talked to a psychologist about how to talk to people with these issues, and how to get the feeling, emotion and tone,” Connor said.
The tone of the show was set to a soundtrack produced by both Bowers and Schlinck. Director Martin Scott Marchitto wanted a soundtrack that was organic for the show.
“I knew Sam and asked if she could write the score for the play,” Marchitto said. “After she accepted, her and George created three different themes, one for each cabin, that would weave together during the show’s transitions.”
After Marchitto helped the actors discover the backstory of their characters and prepare for three nights a week, the audience was captured by their performances.
“I really liked it, there was a lot of good chemistry between the actors,” freshman Samantha Cunningham said. “It puts life in perspective.”