“Heartfelt and impactful, with beats of hope, love, and positivity inter-twined in a powerful performance by the cast…
“And here we stand, the combined energy of our three magnificent minds focused irrevocably on a jacket. My God! There are more important things, I promise you.”
This dialogue from Brian, one of the dying characters in the play, embodies the theme of ‘The Shadow Box ‘– A rendition of Michael Cristofer’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award play, co-directed by Lauren Peach and Moritz Afridi. A touching tale on coping with grief in different manners, the play focuses on three broad storylines of terminally ill patients and how their loved ones are affected in the face of looming death.
It goes without saying that a play dealing with such poignant undertones demands a strong acting calibre. Will Simpson and Sau Yu Cheung’s performances of Joe and Maggie respectively are moving, especially during scenes of conflict. Simpson acts with his eyes and displays a relaxed, yet somber portrayal of a father who must make the difficult decision of telling his son Steve (played well by Layla Rodrigues) about his terminal illness. He modulates his voice well according to his emotions and depicts his dilemma with subtlety. Cheung portrays a wife in denial, constantly grappling with her husband’s illness, with ease. Her dialogues were laced with the right amount of sentiment and panic, allowing the audience to resonate with her feelings.
Olivia Brown’s and Emma Rowson’s portrayals of Beverley and Mark are a delight to watch. Brown plays her role seemingly effortlessly as the drunk and inappropriate ex-wife of Brian (played by Mila Rundic). Her dialogue(s) with Rowson are well-balanced with the condescension, hurt and trashiness that one would expect when a former lover and current spouse clash heads together. Both display good acting range in different emotional scenes, though some of the physical conflicts between the two could have been executed better. Rowson showcases her jealousy and inner struggles well. Rundic’s role is also well-done as someone who has come to terms with his death and living his final days to the fullest, however certain emotional beats do seem missing here and there. The scenes between Beverly and Brian could have more emotional range, especially during any tonal shifts between joy and sadness.
The scenes that take the cake are between Nicole Alexander and Amy Forster, playing a dying mother (Felicity) and her patient, yet beaten down, daughter (Agnes) respectively. In her (comparatively) limited screentime, Alexander’s acting ability comes to life as a mother longing to reunite with her other, estranged daughter. She displays the right amount of despair and helplessness that tugs the heartstrings of the audience. Forster also puts up a good performance as she battles with guilt and remorse and grapples with her mother’s condition.
The first act of the play does a great job of setting the scene, with the ominous ‘voice’ conducting the interviews and fleshing out the characters well. The tonal shift between the first and second act is also perfect, the latter focusing more on dialogue, inter-personal relationships, and conversations surrounding acceptance and relating to one another. It could be said some intonation and pauses in dialogues could be spruced up better, especially in scenes of long monologues.
The production and design of the play (by Matilda Bell and Carrie Cheung) is satisfying. The set design distinguishing between the three storylines is good, and the intertwining of the stories through conversation and emotion – especially in the concluding section of the play – is particularly well-done. There is excellent use of the stage space, such as introducing the characters through the audience aisles, use of spotlights during the interview and personal conversation scenes, and the use of music to denote both happy and sorrowful moments. The ending of the play is heartfelt and impactful, with beats of hope, love, and positivity inter-twined in a powerful performance by the cast.
“The Shadow Box” is a lovely watch, and the efforts involved in making this show are clearly evident. Here’s to hoping for even more of such successful plays from this cast and crew going forward!
By Akash Sivakumar
Photo Credits: First Theatre Company