The span of a day can be gone before its noticed, yet each 24 hours presents almost unlimited opportunity. “The Shadow Box” takes this theme and runs with it, presenting a narrative complete with death, laughter and everything in between — all contained within a single day’s time.
The Shadow Box
Tomorrow at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. and Friday at 7 p.m.
Studio One, Walgreen Drama Center
Basement Arts, a student-run theater organization that has presented free theater for over 20 years to both the University and Ann Arbor, is presenting the show at the Walgreen Drama Center this Thursday and Friday. This Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, written by Michael Cristofer in 1977, takes place in separate cabins on the grounds of a large hospital.
Three cancer patients — Joe, Brian and Felicity — are living with their respective families as they reach the end of their treatment and participate in interviews with a psychiatrist. The Interviewer enhances their dialogues, flowing seamlessly between the serious and often humorous moments that surround the idea of mortality.
MT&D junior Derek Joseph Tran makes his directorial debut with “The Shadow Box,” which he hopes will accurately portray the struggle of coping with death.
“The play revolves around hope,” Tran said. “Each patient progresses through five stages (of grief): denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While they are all staggered in their stages, they share the common ground of hope.”
The play focuses on those hard, emotional conversations that evoke the reality of its topic. As the day ends, no moral dilemmas have been solved, no one has died, and no one is going to live forever.
This triptych, or three associated works intended to be appreciated together, presents reality, selecting three radically different people who all share the same future, whether they are terminal or not.
Tran highlighted the character of Felicity, one of the big personalities of story.
“She is seen as hateful because she is in the anger stage. But you feel pity and sympathize, because even though she is constantly spewing venom, you somehow find the positive,” he said.
Celebrated by critics for its intuition, shrewdness and humor in dealing with a controversial subject matter, Tran stressed the importance of the comedy of tragedy, hoping others will agree that it is human nature to use laughter as a coping mechanism across awkward situations. Tran also stressed the use of realism in this version of the play.
“The set and costume design remain simple, so as not to distract from the experimental acting involved,” Tran said.
“Time isn’t relevant. Despite technological advances, the psychological feeling of death approaching will always be the same,” he said.
As an actor and an author, Cristofer adapted the play for a TV movie in 1980, directed by Paul Newman, which went on to garner three Emmy nominations and a win a Golden Globe. According to Tran, even those lucky enough to be unpracticed in the loss of a loved one can relate to this story: Regardless of the circumstances, the difference between being sympathetic and empathetic is palpable, and it is found on the stage.
Death is the one common concern we all live with, the one certainty in an uncertain world. “The Shadow Box” aims to drive this point home, inciting audiences to at least confront those difficult situations with a few laughs.