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3:53 pm - 07.17.05
The Shadow Box Page
The Shadow Box Page

Shadowbox Studyguide


Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box, directed by Gordon Davidson, premiered October 30, 1975, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Currently out of print, the play is still a hearty read for a contemporary audience. The work interweaves the lives of three dramatically different terminally ill patients and their loved ones to give a dynamic, well-rounded perspective of death and dying. The richness of the play is exemplified by its unity. The action takes place during the course of one day, on a hospital campus. The source for Cristofer’s inspiration was his personal experience with two close friends dying of cancer. Offering varying perspectives of characters, comprising three different plots, gives the work a certain objectivity in its discussion of a sensitive subject.

Thematically, the work touches on the dehumanizing quality death imposes on Cristofer’s patients. Other considerations are also explored—characters choose to be remorseful, engage in reminiscence, confront their disease or exist in a state of denial, or lash out in anger. The brilliance of the work and its success at dealing with such tender subject matter is precisely that it draws no moral conclusions, only offers various perspectives for the audience to ponder without compromising the serious nature of terminal illness. Celebrated by critics for its insight, perceptiveness, and humor in dealing with controversial subject matter, it is not surprising that the work earned Cristofer both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1977.

Author Biography

Michael Cristofer was born Michael Procaccino on January 28, 1945, in Trenton, New Jersey. He left Catholic University after three years to begin his acting career. Cristofer performed with the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., ACT in Seattle, and theTheatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia. In the late 1960s, he found a position with the Beirut Repertory Company in Lebanon and additionally worked to support himself by teaching English. Cristofer produced a street theater production called ‘‘Americomedia.’’ He also wrote several plays. His first play, Mandala, made its debut at theTheatre of the Living Arts and was met with very little interest or attention from critics. It was not until after his fourth play, Plot Counter Plot, that Cristofer would realize great recognition for his work.

Shadow Box

Plot Summary: The setting for "The Shadow Box" is three cottages on the grounds of a large hospital. Here, three tales unfold, at first serially, and then towards the end of each of the play's two acts, simultaneously. Each tale features a person who is dying. Each person is surrounded by loved ones. All are trying to face and make sense of death.

The first family we meet is the most conventional. Joe, a working class husband and father, is joined at the cottage by his wife Maggie, who, in denial of Joe's impending death is afraid to enter the cottage. Their son, Stephen, age 14, has not yet been told of his father's terminal condition. The second family consists of Brian, who is brutally forthright about his demise; Mark, his doting lover; and Beverly, Brian's wild ex-wife who comes to visit them. The third family is a feisty, blind, and wheelchair-bound mother, Felicity, and her dutiful daughter, Agnes. An off-stage character, "the interviewer," pops in and out of the scenes, offering insight into the various characters through questioning.

Commentary: Shadow Box seems to work in both senses of its definition in this play (at least according to Webster's dictionary)-- "to box with an imaginary opponent" . . . "a shallow enclosing case usu. with a glass front in which something is set for protection and display." The cottages are the boxes into which the audience views the characters boxing with death and care of the dying.

This play won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama and the Antoinette Perry Award for Best Play (1977).


Neat Production Poster!

Internet Movie Database listing for Michael Cristofer

A fantastic article detailing the depths of the intertwining characters The Daily Princetonian

A great bio list of his work and awards

TV Movie version directed by Paul Newman!

Production review from St. Charles County Community College

'The Shadow Box' plays in the black box, great article including pictures of cast members

To order the play, Go Here, it's only $6.95


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