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Theatre Review

Flying Machine Theater Co.: The Shadow Box Shines Light on the Dying and Their Families and Caregivers

November 9, 2006 - Durham, NC:

Raleigh, NC-based Flying Machine Theater Co.’s powerful production of Michael Cristofer’s provocative 1977 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Shadow Box, superbly staged by director Marc Williams and playing Nov. 10-12 and 16-18 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, turns the spotlight on three dying patients and their families and caregivers. John Honeycutt (Joe), Jerome Johnson (Brian), and Linda O’Day Young (Felicity) give gut-wrenching performances as this terminally ill trio, living out their last days not in Intensive Care Units, but in comfortable homey cabins on the forested grounds of an innovative California hospital.

Director Marc Williams and set designer Robert Hansen use every inch of the tiny Common Ground Theatre stage as they skillfully interweave the separate stories (not to mention the entrances and exits) of the three patients and their loved ones as all of them learn to face the inevitability of death and come to grips with their anger, grief, denial, and desire to bargain with God with varying degrees of courage and acceptance.

John Honeycutt gives a warm and winning performance as Joe, a dying husband and father whose eagerly anticipated reunion with his wife Maggie (Mary Cates) and daughter Stephanie (Bethany Fannin) is spoiled by the fact that Maggie, in her volcanic rage and denial, cannot accept his terminal condition and has not even told Stephanie that her father is dying.

Linda O’Day Young plays the wheelchair-bound Felicity, a difficult woman to love in the best of times and now in her last days more demanding and insensitive than ever, with great depth of feeling. Ironically, Felicity is especially insensitive to those nearest and dearest to her. Indeed, she is regularly hurts the feelings of her dutiful daughter Agnes (Mariette Booth), who dropped everything to care for her mother. Mother constantly reminds Agnes that she is the plain one and will never play more than second fiddle to her sister Clare, who is Felicity’s favorite despite her absence from Felicity’s bedside. Clare is the smart one, the pretty one, the mother of Felicity’s two lovely grandchildren, and the one who writes regular letters to her hospitalized mother. The fact that Agnes is there for the duration and Clare and the children have not even made a cameo appearance doesn’t matter to Felicity. Mother likes Clare best, and seems determined to hang on to life until Clare finally comes for a visit.

Jerome Johnson gives the finest performance of the production as the irrepressible Brian, who has lost his hair and his equilibrium but not his zest for life. Brian is a bisexual academic who loves to philosophize on life and death. His gay lover Mark (Jeff Alguire) is his live-in caregiver; but a surprise whirlwind visit by Brian’s voluptuous former wife Beverly (Marta King), who arrives drunk and gets drunker and more maudlin by the minute, becomes increasingly distasteful to Mark, who subconsciously feels that Beverly threatens his status as mourner in chief when Brian finally dies.

Mary Cates plays Joe’s wife Maggie, the Queen of Denial, as a woman just a blink of losing it; and Bethany Fannin is sweet and funny as Joe’s precocious daughter Stephanie. Mariette Booth gives a heart-breaking performance as a loving daughter who knows she will always was be second best as far as her mother Felicity is concerned; Jeff Alguire eloquently explores all facets Mark’s complex personality; Marta King rips away Beverly’s carefree party-girl façade to show the caring human being underneath; and Lu Meeks gives the unseen Interviewer, who periodically interrogates the patients and their caregivers, a distinctive personality beneath a clinical manner.

The Shadow Box, which was written almost three decades ago, anticipated the hospice movement that allows terminal patients to die with dignity at home or in a homelike setting, rather than in a hospital. Michael Cristofer’s thought-provoking play teaches its audience important lessons about death and dying, and it raises important issues that are still timely. The current Flying Machine Theater Co. production of The Shadow Box fearlessly explores these issues and their ultimate impact on all of us and the ones we love. Don’t miss it.

Note: Part of the proceeds of the ticket sales to The Shadow Box will go to Project Compassion, a Chapel Hill-based support group that helps people live with serious illness and supports them and their caregivers through the end of life and the grief that follows.

Flying Machine Theater Co. presents The Shadow Box Friday-Saturday, Nov. 10-11, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 12, at 3 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 16-18, at 8 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14 ($10 students, teachers, and seniors). 919/594-2615 or via etix @ the presenter's site.
click here. Flying Machine Theater Co.: http://www.theflyingmachine.net/productions/shadow.html. Common Ground Theatre: http://www.cgtheatre.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7899. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081492/.