Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Shadow Box

Beverly (Natasha Hause), dressed in gold lamé
and dripping with jewelry,
is confronted with the reality of dying
when she visits her former husband,
a patient at a hospice program,
in "The Shadow Box," playing now in Sacramento.
Courtesy photo
We’re all going to die. You, me, everybody you love. It’s a given.

This life we live is a one-way street that leads to a dead end. Yet, we don’t often think about our mortality; we don’t spend time dwelling on our death because we don’t know when it will come and we optimistically assume it’s a long way into the future.

This is not the case with the three residents of a hospice-like facility, where they have been given the use of individual cottages because all hope of a cure for their illnesses is gone and they are going to die. Soon.

One of the conditions of living in the cottage is daily interviews by two mostly unseen interviewers (Michelle Champoux and Stephen Wellman) on how they are feeling, physically, but especially emotionally.

“The Shadow Box,” by Michael Cristofer and directed by Bill Zarrielo, presented by the ironically named Resurrection Theatre at the Wilkerson Theatre of the California Theatre complex, explores these patients and how they are handling their impending death(s). It is a moving and powerful show.

Back in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote about the emotional stages experienced by those facing imminent death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This production deals with each of those emotions as the patients interact with their friends and loved ones.
Joe (Michael Sicilia) has not, for some reason, seen his wife Maggie (Maureen Gaynor) or son Steve (Tony Brisson) in months. But they have been sent for and arrive with baggage and food … including a ham (because isn’t that what you bring to the grief-stricken?).

Steve has not been told that his father is dying and Maggie is in such denial that she won’t even enter Joe’s cottage because to go inside is to accept his death sentence, and she can’t do that.

Joe seems to be at peace with his impending death, but Maggie begs him to come home again: Let’s buy a small farm and forget all of this because it’s not true.

In Cottage 2 is Brian (Shawn B. O’Neal) and his young lover Mark (Eric Craig), who has been his caretaker for a long time. Death seems to have inspired the creativity in Brian and he wants to write and write and write. He doesn’t care if it’s good, he just wants to write.

Into this world sweeps Brian’s former wife Beverly (Natasha Hause), dressed in gold lamé and dripping with jewelry (you just know she must be drenched in Giorgio). She descends on Brian and Mark with an energy that explodes everywhere. She is there to remind Brian of all of their good times. It’s laughs and cuddles and promises until she comes face to face with the reality of his disease and what Mark has been dealing with.
Mark, at the same time, is the exhausted caregiver, forever sorting pills and cleaning up all sorts of messes. He is angry and has come to hate Brian at times, but is still in love with him and is terrified at the thought of losing him.

Cottage 3 houses Felicity (Janet Motenko) and her daughter Agnes (Adrienne Sher). Doctors have given up hope for Felicity, who has had multiple operations, is wheelchair-bound and is in great pain most of the time. She also has dementia and drifts in and out of reality, calling for her long-dead daughter Claire, whose frequent letters — which Agnes writes — are keeping hope alive in Felicity that the beloved daughter will soon come home.

As I watched Agnes caring for her mother, my overriding thought was that surely in the actress’ real life she deals with someone with dementia. It wasn’t only that her acting was so strong, but her entire body — including the expression on her face — echoed the exhaustion and reluctant acceptance of what she needed do that I hear from many caregivers of dementia victims.

There is some good humor in this show as well, though for the most part it was lost on the audience of about 10 people, who braved the rain to come to the theater. I suspect a larger audience would get it more.
Watching the three patients and the reactions of their loved ones, one is struck with the necessity of assessing our own lives, thinking how we can make the most of every moment, live positively, leave few regrets at the end of it, whenever it comes.

Because it could all be over in an instant and what, after all, was the most important thing?

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