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"The Shadow Box" Proves to be an Intense Journey into the Soul

By Kevin Card / Log Staff Writer
On March 23, 2012

Set in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the famous play "The Shadow Box" is a highly dramatic black comedy written by Michael Cristofer about three people dying of cancer and how the victims and their families deal with death.

Did the theater department at Salem State University do the production justice earlier this month? Yes, it did, and in a powerful way.

While featuring a talented cast exhibiting the five stages of dealing with death--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and lastly, acceptance--director David Allen George pointed out that hope stands out as the most important emotion of all.

The three main stars, of course, were the cancer victims who each have their own cottages in the California redwood forest intended to give people a sense of peace.The first cottage scene featured characters Joe (Nicholas Raponi), the young son Steve (Guthrie Scrimgeour), and wife Maggie (Casey Woodard).

Raponi stole those scenes with his display of the five stages of death movingly, but the chemistry was so well-performed that during the moments involving both him and Woodard, they argued as if their fights would erupt to take the audience members with them.

The second cottage scene featured the second cancer victim, Brian (Ian Helmick), Brian's love interest, Mark (Colin Colford), and Brian's former wife, Beverly (Maryanne Truax).

Helmick portrayed his character as someone doing all he can intellectually before death but who is still having a hard time coming to terms with it. Colford's character, Mark, wishes to help, but also wishes Brian would not die in the first place.

Traux started off as an annoying "trampy" character but later developed into a considerably wise person, leaving Mark some excellent words of wisdom on coping with loss.

The third cottage scene featured the dying Felicity (Linda Coleman) and her daughter Agnes (Shannon Mercer), both of whom had great deliveries.

Felicity misses her other daughter, Claire, and is in denial of a shocking revelation that Mercer has to help Felicity deal with for the rest of her life. Felicity's denial showed that some mental illnesses cannot be cured.

Between the cottage scenes, interviews were held with different cast members on how they're coping with the idea of death. The dialogue went from intense to highly philosophical, and the interviewer, Andy Leblanc, assisted in letting the characters develop in the five stages, while Leblanc himself remained calm and kind throughout to portray a professional psychologist.

The set was simple, made of chairs, a bench, and a backdrop that was either set in the dark during interviews or lit up with images when a character recalled a memory, or else was set with light during the cottage scenes. The lighting set the mood well, and was also not overbearingly bright.

The music in the production was performed by SSU music major Zachary Bridges, who played his double bass with a bow, and then with his fingers at different parts of the play to change the mood.

The most noticeable moments were at the start, where Bridges' playing represented life with a calm melody, and after the intermission, when he used dissonant notes to signal the coming of death in the play's second half.

Bridges also confirmed he alone composed the music for the interludes.

Amidst the plot and music playing sat the audience, who loved every joke.

They sat quietly in awe at dramatic scenes, and applauded at the intermission and at the end when all the characters came out together to form a massive closing dialogue.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, "The Shadow Box" packed interesting music, dialogue, a strong delivery on the five emotions related to death and loss, and amazing chemistry among all the actors involved.

The cast featured many gifted actors who had equally astounding deliveries on their emotions. There was no one actor better than another. Rather, each cast member had his or her shining moment displaying character development.

Though in the past critics have said the show had become dated with its medical knowledge, overall, the show still boasted solid and thought-evoking writing.

The production of "The Shadow Box" stands to teach us that death isn't something that can be bargained with or stopped, but rather to be embraced by everyone realistically with dignity and love.

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