|Photograph by Robert Catto|
THE SHADOW BOX, by Michael Cristofer, is concerned with three persons in the terminal stage of a cancer illness, and the strains (collateral damage) it has on the families coping with that reality.
This production has a beautiful visual aesthetic created by Designer, Isabel Hudson, who simplifies the more naturalistic demands of the original concept, and is assisted by a haze lighting Design by Martin Kinnane that manages a consistent elegance of presentation during this longish play in this intimate space. Director, Kim Hardwick, has also drawn wonderfully detailed 'naturalistic' performances from all of her actors that invites identifying empathy and consistent concentration with these characters in dreadful and all to human emotional places. Mark Lee (Joe), Jeanette Cronin (Maggie), Simon Thomson (Steve); Tim McGarry (Brian), Kate Raison (Beverly), Anthony Gooley (Mark); Fiona Press (Felicity), Ella Prince (Agnes) and Jason Blair-West (The Interviewer.)
The Play was written in 1977 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The problem for the production of THE SHADOW BOX is that the writing, in 2016, seems ponderously melodramatic, and despite its reaching for insights of philosophic worthiness, has today, a sense of 'milking' the situation with the American Hallmark Channel movie predilection for sentimentality and honourable intentions. It is a strain to bear with it all, especially, when occasionally the actors cross into a little 'histrionic' choice for emotional unloading - which the writer seems to invite. I need to say it was, generally, handled well by all but every now and then...!
This production has an exquisite look and a company of actors of empathy and skill (Ms Press especially impressive in her dour consistency of character ) but in material, that considering its subject matter, feels a trifle dated in its methods of creating a distinctive night in the theatre. Edward Albee in his play, THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE, written in 1980, only 3 years later, demonstrates why he is a great playwright when, he too, tackles the issue of cancer/illness on the stage. No melodramatics there. Lots of shattering naked truths. Much comedy, believe it or not. And much philosophy, as well as the human terror.
THE SHADOW BOX will require your personal judgement about how a night in the theatre with illness can be spent.
N.B. There was no biographical notes about the writer, Michael Cristofer. All others recorded BUT not the writer - the source of all this hard work. It happens a lot in the Sydney Theatre scene. The Darlinghurst Company not acknowledging David Mamet, for instance.