For those who can’t wait for the upcoming MHCC theater production “You Can’t Take It With You” starting on May 12, the Sandy Actors Theatre (SAT) has one final weekend for its showing of “The Shadow Box,” written by Michael Cristopher and directed by Steve Koeppen. Tickets are $15 for students, with shows at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Based off the book “On Death and Dying,” the setting takes place over the course of 24 hours on the grounds of a large hospital – revolving around three cottages used as a last resort for terminally ill patients. In these cottages, three different persons’ stories are told: Joe (Mark Beaudet), a loving father and husband; Brian (Duke Murrdodge), who lives every minute to the fullest, no matter what; and Felicity (Laura Reeves), who wants nothing more than to see her daughter, despite her dementia.
Through these three and those around them, the real story is told as the characters struggle with the stages of grief.
One thing that adds to the play was the stage’s intimacy with the audience, since there’s not a lot of space to begin with. Another factor is the setup, in which all of the three houses are on the set, and in the second half of the show all the actors can be seen – eating, dancing, crying, everything.
Scenes with the interviewer (played by Jim Laproe) seem cramped, though, despite the freedom they are given to move around in. I understand that these scenes are not major in terms of stagecraft, but in terms of meaning and understanding they’re highly crucial to the story. If the props could have been brought in and taken away, I don’t believe it would take much away.
In terms of characters, they are all spectacular to the very end, each portraying some stage of grief. Some are more prominent than others, such as Joe’s wife, Maggie (Anita Clark), who simply refuses to believe that her husband is dying. All of the scenes with them and their son, Steve (Nathan Hale), are outside of the cottage on and around the porch because she does not want go inside.
Some of the best lines and story, in my opinion, however, come from Brian, his “friend,” Mark (Scott Caster), and his ex-wife, Beverly (Meghan Daaboul). The reason Beverly comes to Brian’s cottage is out of convenience, and also not wanting to see him when he gets worse. When he meets her, he tells her about the books, poems, short stories, and even autobiographies he has written, including paintings he did when he was prescribed a medication that messed with his eyesight.
Mark, however, remains skeptical and cold to her until the two end up fighting, Mark revealing how desperately he doesn’t want Brian to die.
Felicity’s trials, however, from the perspective of her oldest daughter, Agnes (Tracy Grant), are the saddest and most psychological as well. In order to try and keep her mother happy and lucid, Agnes writes fictional letters from her long-dead sister, Claire, who supposedly is traveling to visit them. The interviewer confronts her about this and why her mother has lasted so long in her treatments, but Agnes continues to write the letters.
It’s only at the end that she begins to wonder if she should tell her mother the truth about Claire.
Normally, I don’t cry with sad stuff. I’ve read all the “Hunger Games” books and “The Book Thief,” and have seen “Dead Poets Society,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” and “My Dog Skip” with misty eyes at the most. Walking out of the SAT and back to my car, however, I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore.
Then again, death and dying are facts of life that everyone must face on their own and in their own way. The reason it hit home for me was because of someone I know who lost their grandmother back in January to Leukemia. She was a great lady who was always learning and trying to help in the community, and knowing she’s gone still stings for both of us a little.
Therefore, I encourage you to go see the show before it’s too late. There’s only so much time we have, so why not live in the moment?