‘Shadow Box’ considers life and death at Arkansas Public Theatre

‘Shadow Box’ considers life and death at Arkansas Public Theatre

“Time is precious. You never know how much time you have left. With your loved ones, with the things you enjoy doing, or even with yourself. Enjoy every moment and try to live your life to the fullest.”

“None of us will live forever. We are not meant to live forever. But we should seize the day we have and cherish the people in our lives. At some point, that will be messy and ugly, but that is life and love.”

The actors in the Arkansas Public Theatre production of “The Shadow Box” have thought a lot about death and even more about life over the past few weeks. Working on a drama about three characters dying in what is essentially a hospice facility and the effect that has on their families has not been easy.

“It’s hard to be all in every night and not have it take an emotional toll,” says Alix Barrett. “Dying is hard for the dying and those they leave behind.”

“The most challenging aspect of working on this show is the subject and reality of terminal illness and every emotion that comes with it,” says Matthew Etris. “It’s going to speak profoundly to many audience members.”

“I think the audiences will leave with a myriad of emotions — almost everyone has been touched by cancer,” says director Ed McClure. “In 1977, recovering from cancer was not as likely as it is today. In that context, when there was no hope for recovery, it created a very different landscape than we have today.”

The premise of the play by Michael Cristofer is that Joe, “a strong, but gentle man that loves his family”; Brian, “an intellectual who is very matter of fact with the fact that he’s dying”; and Felicity, who is “old and worn out” and also has dementia, have each been moved into a cottage on the grounds of a hospital. Their family members have been invited to stay with them there as long as “it” takes.

Joe, played by Etris, thinks it’ll only be a couple of weeks. Brian, played by Scott Harrison, is running in circles, writing and painting and creating and trying to “distract himself from his impending death.” And Felicity, played by Kerry Beebe, just might outlast her daughter, Agnes, who has unwittingly given her mother a reason to hang on interminably.

“I am not a person who takes much crap from anyone, and Agnes lets her mother walk all over her,” says Kathy McClure, who plays Felicity’s daughter. “[But] I would have moved heaven and earth to have my mother here another day!”

Alan Coney Jr. is Mark, Brian’s partner, and Alix Barrett is Beverly, his ex-wife, who shows up for comic relief — sort of.

“He has had a bit of a rough life, doing anything he could to get by, until he met Brian,” Coney says of Mark. “Brian took him in and gave him a home. Mark is terrified of losing Brian because he doesn’t know what this will mean for him going forward. Not necessarily financially, but in terms of will he ever find someone who will see him the same way again, someone who will look beyond his past and see him for who he always felt he was.”

“Beverly has a very dry and sarcastic humor that I love and can relate to,” says Barrett. “I understand her fear around not knowing what to expect when she sees Brian and trying to numb that fear as much as she can [by drinking] and pretend it isn’t happening.”

Robert Mayfield plays the interviewer, an unseen member of the medical staff who gives the characters an excuse to share their thoughts. That breaking of the fourth wall was something unusual in 1977, says McClure, but it’s the “humor and the humanity” of the show have surprised him, although he’s been a fan of the script since college.

“We need to be aware of our mortality and be as present as possible in our lives as often as possible,” Mayfield says he’s been reminded.

“Live every day as though it is your last, tell people you love them, and don’t sweat the small stuff,” McClure concludes.


‘The Shadow Box’

WHEN — 8 p.m. May 5-6, 2 p.m. May 7, again May 11-13

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in downtown Rogers

COST — $20-$40

INFO — arkansaspublictheatre.org or 631-8988

Categories: Theater