A thought-provoking drama about self-realization

Most people don’t dwell on the subject of death, but for playwright Michael Christofer’s “The Shadow Box,” end-of-life matters are the central focus in the complex lives of three families.

Richland drama chair and director Andy Long said he has always loved this play and calls it beautiful and inspiring. The play deals with something everyone will eventually face, which is death. He said Christofer lost friends to cancer and decided to write this play, never knowing that it would win the Tony Award for Best Play in 1977 and the Pulitzer Prize the same year.

Jimmy Jensen and Beth Long in “The Shadow Box

Jimmy Jensen and Beth Long in “The Shadow Box

“Shadow,” a two-act play, centers around patients who are undergoing treatment for terminal cancer in three cottages on the grounds of a California hospital. The patients are at the end of their treatment and are in hospice care.

Joe is a patient in one of them. His wife Maggie and their son Steve, 14, visit him. Brian, who’s in a second cottage, has a gay lover, Mark, and an obnoxious ex-wife who comes to visit him.

Felicity, an older woman in a wheelchair, lives in the third cottage along with her daughter Agnes, a spinster who writes phony letters to her mother to help her cope with losing her sister, Claire, who died in a car accident some time before. The play covers a 24-hour period in the characters’ lives.

An interviewer, whose voice we only hear, is among the nine somber characters, and represents a psychiatrist. The cancer patients have agreed to be part of a psychological experiment regarding their illness and state of mind.

For plot purposes, Long said Christofer created the role of the interviewer so the characters could talk directly to the audience about death and dying.

The title of the play references an “old school memorabilia collection that you put together of pictures or awards or things that you want to remember, that you can frame and put on a wall,” Long said. “Sometimes we do that with our lives, that we look back at our lives and our memories and they make these neat, little pictures that we can see of a person’s life.”

“I think [the play] is more about self-realization than it is about dying,” Long said. But, at the same time the ending is so beautifully optimistic that I think it inspires hope at the end.”

The nine cast members are Richland theater students Jimmy Jensen, Beth Long, Sheldon Vielma, Shae Hardwick, Ben Stegmair, Alan Self, Cat Christensen, Alondra Castro and Kyla Burns as the interviewer.

Long said he and the cast will compete at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival at Panola College in Carthage from Nov.7-10, where they will present the entire play.

Performances of “Shadow” are free and will run at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10-13 in Fannin Performance Hall. The play is two hours long with a 15-minute intermission. The preview is Oct. 9. Richland students, faculty, staff and the general public are welcome. No reservations are necessary.