Outside the Box

“There are five different stages that a person will go through when he faces the fact of his own death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages will last for different periods of time, they will replace each other, or exist at times side by side… But the one thing that usually persists through all these stages is hope.” -E. Kubler-Ross, M.D. This quotation begins the script of Michael Crisatof’s The Shadow Box. In the Lexie Kuhn ’04 production of this show last Friday evening, the program included this statement as an introduction to a very complicated story that follows three people as they confront the five different stages of death. Kuhn’s first project as a director at Phillips Academy proved to be successful. A play based on such a serious matter would be difficult for any high school student to portray accurately, yet Khun handled the challenged with maturity and insight, managing to capture the difficult reality of death. Kuhn interpreted the four locations of the show as part of a common area and created different spheres of the Tang Theater stage accordingly. The characters had a tendency to remain close to the edge of the stage and therefore break down the wall between the actors and the audience. Understandably, this closeness created more intimacy between the different setting and the audience. The premise of The Shadow Box is unique. Three people receive notification that nothing more can be done for their cancer battle. All that remains are goodbyes and final recollections as the dying are sent to appointed cottages to pass away in peace and be interviewed about death. Travis Green ’04 was an excellent choice for the interviewer because of his captivating voice and ability to remain calm while exploring the various situations. It was unclear as to why he appeared at some times and not at others, but overall, he created the impression that his presence came from beyond. Various loved ones join the dying characters during their final days. Kuhn focused the play on these supporting characters, allowing each of them to impact the audience and bring something different to the stage. However, while the intentions behind shining the spotlight on the living appeared obvious, some of the effectiveness was lost in the execution. The delivery of the characters set the tone of the show, and at times it was lacking. For such an emotional play, the characters very rarely displayed their emotional ups and downs. This produced a constantly low level of excitement that remained throughout most of the show. However, when the characters did take risks and increase the tension, they dominated the stage and awed the audience. Caroline Claflin ’05, for example, seized the potential of her character and impressed the audience with her range of acting abilities. Claflin’s character, Felicity, was one of the dying cancer patients. Blind and senile, Felicity presented Claflin with an extremely difficult role to execute. Claflin met this challenge with determination that came through in a powerful performance on stage that was heart-wrenching and intensely comic at the same time. Her daughter Agnes, played by Ann Wilkin ’05, also took advantage of her character’s dynamic traits. Although Wilkin did not have as much stage time as some of the other actors, she made a lasting impression with her wistful, frustrated portrayal. Chris Zegel ’05, Paul Sonne ’03, and Kate Cooper ’03 took part in a twisted love triangle between a divorced heterosexual couple and a current homosexual couple. The interactions between Mark (Sonne) and Beverley (Cooper), both lovers of Brian (Zegel) at some point or another, offered another fluctuation of emotion in the show. Both Sonne and Cooper maintained their characters well as they confronted the relationship conflicts between their characters. Cooper also added comic relief to the show by giving an admirable depiction of a belligerent drunk. Cooper managed to stumble around the stage, spew out ridiculous comments, and then quickly shift to a capable adult who is about to lose her ex-husband. Zegel did not bring a large amount of emotion to the stage, but he provided exactly what his character demanded. Zegel’s Brian had a neutral view on death and a neutral role in the romantic battle, so his reserved performance fit into the show perfectly. The tale of the third patient Joe, played by Chris Lynch ’04, was the tearjerker of the three tales, tapping into the sensitive subject of a death in a family with children. Lynch remained composed throughout his performance and relied on subtle undertones to express his character’s opinions, doubts, and emotions. Meanwhile, there was nothing subtle about his wife Maggie, played by Meryl Mims ’03. Mims displayed subtlety in the role of widow/single mother-to-be by having her character put on a mask to cover her hysterical reality. Once Maggie finally did breakdown, Mims’ talent shined through with a poignant performance. Their daughter Stephanie, played by the Emma Sussex ’04, received much of the audience’s sympathy. Sussex was such a believable naïve young girl that her realization of her father’s pending death made a deep impression on the audience. The conclusion of the show brought all of the stories together and overlapped powerful statements about the reality of death, a commendable way to finish such a compelling show. This powerful ending was one of the many highlights of the show. The audience received the serious choice of topic with resounding applause. The play successfully combined just the right about of humor and hope with the stark reality of cancer and death. Kuhn shows a lot of promise as a daring and astute director who will almost certainly have a positive impact on theater during her remaining time at Phillips Academy and beyond. The talented actors involved also show the potential to entertain our community. However, the beauty of the production was found in the deeply meaningful exploration of a community that looks death in the face and yet continues to live.