Story by Community College of Rhode Island (Press Rlease)

Touching upon a topic that has become increasingly more relevant during the pandemic, the Community College of Rhode Island Players continue their 2020-21 season this week with a unique adaptation of Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box, a play that details the struggles of three separate families dealing with the impending death of loved ones in hospice care.

The Shadow Box runs from December 3 through 6 and will be presented online via ShowTix4U. Showtimes are 7:30 pm on December 3 and 4 with 2 pm and 7:30 performances on December 5 and 6. Admission is $8.

Much like his predecessor, Luke Sutherland, who dealt with the challenges of directing a play remotely earlier this semester in the Players’ season-opening rendition of Fool For Love, director Kevin Olson is tasked with conveying the message behind The Shadow Box without the benefit of performing in front of a live audience.

Olson’s adaptation offers a few new twists; unlike Fool For Love, where viewers could see and hear the performers, The Shadow Box is presented in audio format only, which forces both the performers and the audience to concentrate exclusively on the dialogue. No costumes, no set decorations, and no narrator – the only visual aesthetics are images of the characters in costume; illustrations designed by Sutherland to depict scenery; and, as needed, captions to illustrate important sound effects pertinent to the story arc.

“Initially, I thought we’d go with a more traditional format,” Olson said, “but within the first 15 minutes of rehearsal, I realized that would be counterproductive to what the actors really needed to focus on. We asked people to turn off their cameras so we could only hear their voices, allowing them, hopefully, to concentrate a bit more on listening.

“Actors always have to listen to each other when they’re on stage, but even listening takes on a whole new quality when you’re rehearsing and performing via the internet.”

As for the use of images and captions rather than a narrator, Olson said, “I felt the intensity of this piece was such that rather than have an unknown voice speak the stage directions, putting words on the screen would allow the energy and the flow of a particularly intense scene to be performed with a bit more integrity.”

The Shadow Box debuted on Broadway in 1977 and was later adapted into a TV movie directed by Paul Newman. The story focuses on three patients – Joe, Brian, and Felicity – who are dying of cancer and living out their final days in the company of friends and family in hospice cottages. They are observed and counseled by an interviewer while talking candidly about their emotional and physical struggles in addition to facing interpersonal challenges. Joe’s wife Maggie is denial about her husband’s condition and refuses to enter his cottage while Brian, an artist, has to mediate between his ex-wife and current boyfriend. Felicity, described as “an old woman who drifts between senility and combative lucidness,” refuses to die until she gets a visit from her daughter Claire despite the fact Claire has been dead for several years.

The Players chose The Shadow Box as one of several plays to perform long before the onset of the pandemic, but, Olson says, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels to what many families continue to deal with as positive COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket throughout the world.

“I would imagine the audience will share, in some unique way, the struggles of the characters in this play,” Olson said.

The nine-person cast, according to Olson, features “incredible diversity of experience and age, which is extraordinarily helpful as we deal with the subject of death and dying, especially in the age of a pandemic.” Starring in The Shadow Box are Jacob Scott as The Interviewer, Ryk McIntyre as Joe, Allen DerManelian as Steve, Dinorah Best as Maggie, Chris Ricci as Brian, Kim Pike as Beverly, Jon Hart as Mark, Lia Pinto as Felicity, and Emma Cox as Agnes.

“The disappointment of not being able to perform on stage, we got over that very quickly,” Olson said. “Everyone involved in this has embraced the challenges and has grown as artists, and I’m just so grateful that CCRI has allowed this to happen.”

CCRI is at the forefront of improving the ways community college students are prepared to advance their education and career prospects. Named America’s 2019 2-Year College of the Year by Education Dive, CCRI expects to have the highest three-year graduation rate of any community college in New England by 2021.

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