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The Shadow Box

The Shadow Box
Written by Michael Cristofer
Characters Maggie
The Interviewer
Date premiered March 31, 1977
Place premiered Morosco Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting Three cottages of a large hospital

The Shadow Box is a play written by actor Michael Cristofer. The play made its Broadway debut on March 31, 1977. The original cast included Simon Oakland as Joe, Laurence Luckinbill as Brian, Mandy Patinkin as Mark, Geraldine Fitzgerald as Felicity, and Vincent Spano as Steve (originally credited as Vincent Stewart). It is the winner of the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

Plot synopsis

The play takes place over twenty-four hours, in three separate vacation cabins on the grounds of a large hospital, in the United States. Within the three cabins are three patients: Joe, Brian and Felicity, who are to live with their respective families as they have reached the end of their treatment. They have agreed to be part of a psychological scheme where they live within the hospital grounds and have interviews with a psychiatrist.[1]

Act One

It is morning. The play opens with Joe sitting in the interview area talking to the interviewer. We are introduced to the idea that he is dying and that his family are about to arrive, whom he hasn’t seen for most of his treatment. ‘The interviewer’ acts as a tool for each of the patients and their families to relay their feelings about their situation; the characters speak bluntly to the interviewer. Each of the families is introduced in this section of the play. When Joe’s wife and son, Maggie and Steve, arrive, it quickly becomes apparent that Maggie is avoiding dealing with the prospect of her future without Joe. She refuses to enter their cabin, while Steve has no idea of his father’s impending death.

Brian is next to be introduced to the audience. Taking an aloof approach to his illness, he wants to live each day until the last. Rather than skirt the issues, he confronts them with a dark humor. His young gay lover Mark is with him at the camp. His ex-wife Beverly arrives in a glamorous fashion, adding a third dynamic to their story.

The third family is Felicity, an elderly woman, and her daughter Agnes. Felicity moves in and out of the real world; sometimes away with the fairies, and at others having poignant moments of lucidity. Agnes is the perfect caretaker; her reserved disposition contrasts with her mother’s dementia, providing moments that are both heartbreaking and funny in the same second. It is a normal day for each of these characters; getting to learn their individuality is the heart of the play. The act flows between the serious and the humorous, often without a beat in between. The first act reveals that each of the three main characters is radically different. They are connected by their futures, whether they are terminal or not. As the act ends Joe and Maggie are beginning to really talk, Agnes is struggling to connect to her mother, and Brian and Beverly are dancing.

Act Two

It is nearing evening. Joe is still coaxing Maggie to come into the cabin, Brian and Beverly are reminiscing, while Mark becomes frustrated by his lover's jollity, and Agnes begins to talk to the interviewer. As the act continues, cracks are shown in Brian’s brutal forthrightness about his illness and Mark's feelings about his impending death. Beverly provides some raw insight within her seemingly scattered exterior. Joe and Maggie continue to struggle to have a real conversation about their future. Agnes reveals a secret about her sister Claire. We learn that she died some years ago in an accident in Louisiana. Over the past two years Agnes has been writing letters to her mother from her sister, and the interviewer presents her with some hard questions. More is learned about the characters lives before they became ill, material that makes their current situation more poignant. By the end of the act no moral conclusions have been drawn, no one has died, and no one is going to live forever. The audience thinks not about each person's impending death but what to do with this ‘moment’ that each has to live.[2]


The play opened on March 31, 1977 at the Morosco Theatre[3]and closed on December 31, 1977, after 315 performances.[4]

The production was directed by Gordon Davidson with scenery by Ming Cho Lee, costumes by Bill Walker, lighting by Ronald Wallace, production stage manager Franklin Keysar, associate producers Philip Getter and Bernard Stuchin, and press by Betty Lee Hunt, Maria Cristina Pucci, and Fred Hoot. The show's cast featured Josef Sommer (Interviewer), Simon Oakland (Joe), Vincent Spano (Steve), Joyce Ebert (Maggie), Laurence Luckinbill (Brian), Mandy Patinkin (Mark), Patricia Elliott (Beverly), Rose Gregorio (Agnes), and Geraldine Fitzgerald (Felicity). Mary Carver replaced Fitzgerald on April 30, 1977 and Clifton James replaced Oakland on May 23, 1977.[5]

Film adaptation

Cristofer adapted the play for a television movie in 1980, directed by Paul Newman. It went on to win a Golden Globe and nominations for three Emmy Awards. The cast featured John Considine (Interviewer), James Broderick (Joe), Valerie Harper (Maggie), Christopher Plummer (Brian), Ben Masters (Mark), Joanne Woodward (Beverly), Melinda Dillon (Agnes), and Sylvia Sidney (Felicity).

Awards and nominations



  1. ^ Leah, Frank D. “THEATER REVIEW; The Shadow Box Explores Mortality”. The New York Times. 12 November 1989. [1]
  2. ^ Leah, Frank D. “THEATER REVIEW; The Shadow Box Explores Mortality”. The New York Times. 12 November 1989. [2]
  3. ^ Barnes, Clive. "Stage: Inside 'The Shadow Box'" The New York Times (abstract), April 1, 1977, p.50
  4. ^ "'Shadow Box' Going Out With the Old Year" The New York Times (abstract), December 22, 1977, p.57
  5. ^ "'The Shadow Box', 1977 listing" InternetBroadwayDatabase, accessed November 24, 2011
  • Napierkowski, Marie Rose ed. (January 2006). "The Shadow Box: Introduction". Drama for Students. eNotes. vol. 15 (Detroit: Gale). Retrieved 2008-06-24. 

External links

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