'The Shadow Box' tests actors, audience
Next weekend, The Potomac Playmakers will bring Michael Cristofer’s powerful award-winning drama “The Shadow Box” to The Women’s Club in Hagerstown.
Produced under special arrangement with Samuel French, “The Shadow Box” is directed by Barry Harbaugh with Sheri Stewart. Harbaugh said the play, that shows the early development of hospice, has always been one of his favorites.
“I like to direct shows that challenge the actors as well as the audience,” Harbaugh said. “It won a Pulitzer and a Tony in 1977, one of the few plays to win both.”
The play focuses on three terminal cancer patients, who dwell in separate cottages on a hospital’s grounds, as they are attended to and are visited by family and close friends.
“It makes the audience think and it shows that we have come a long way but we also have a long way to go in dealing with the terminally ill and those that take care of them,” Harbaugh said.
In one cottage, there is an estranged mother and daughter, whose relationship is further strained by the mother’s dementia. In another cottage there is a couple whose marital complications are exacerbated by the husband’s new lover, Mark. In the third cottage, another married couple is unready for the strain of the husband’s impending death and its effect on their teenage son.
“I think the audience will have no problem connecting with each character. In some way we have all experienced having a friend or family member with a terminal illness,” Harbaugh said. “This play will help them to see that they are not alone and that we all survive it to an extent.”
The play stars Krissi Bainbridge, Tom Doty, Amy Fox, Christopher Leatherman, Barb McCormick, Maverick McKee, Christine Miller-Grable, Andrew Shifler and Jake Smith.
Harbaugh said when studying theater, he learned the key to a great show is to have a great cast.
“And I have a terrific cast. They are a great group of versatile actors that have done a great job studying their characters and bringing them to life,” Harbaugh said.
This is Bainbridge’s first show with the Potomac Playmakers.
“I saw their production of ‘The Porch’ and the performances were so high caliber that I knew I had to audition for them. I’m lucky to say Barry saw something in my audition and took a chance on me as my character is not an easy one to portray and I was an unknown quantity to him,” Bainbridge said.
Bainbridge, of Hagerstown, plays the complicated and conflicted Agnes, a daughter caught in this impossible situation of being the caretaker for her mother, Felicity. Bainbridge said Felicity makes it plain as day that she prefers other daughter Claire, who is nowhere to be found for reasons revealed later in the show.
“She doesn’t have a life outside of Felicity and her mother actually seems to dislike her for her devotion, frequently hurting her feelings and insulting her. She’s torn between wanting to be a good daughter and resenting her mother for dragging her into the life she’s in,” Bainbridge said.
For most of Bainbridge’s theater career, she said she has been in more comedic roles with sassy characters which is more similar to her own personality.
“With Agnes, it’s the total opposite. It’s forced me to pull from my own memories and painful experiences to really do the character justice and to stretch myself as an actress,” Bainbridge said. “There aren’t any moments of comic relief for her, so I leave rehearsals feeling drained from putting myself in the shoes of such an emotionally beaten down woman. She’s definitely not a character where you can just ‘phone in’ the performance and it keeps me on my toes at all times.”
Tom Doty, of Hagerstown, who audiences may remember as Harry Rote in “Wait Until Dark,” takes on the role of Joe. Doty said Joe is a blue-collar worker who has drifted in and out of jobs. He finds out that his wife has not accepted what is happening and has failed to tell their son why dad has been away.
“I love that Joe is a devoted husband and father who loves his family and is not afraid to communicate those feelings. He is also contending with feeling that he has not made a mark on the world by never following a solid career path and has guilt over having lost their home which he had built from the ground up,” Doty said.
He said the intense emotional scenes with Christine Miller-Grable, who plays his character’s wife, Maggie, is the most challenging part of playing the role.
“She is an incredibly gifted actress who forces me to bring my A game to these highly charged moments,” Doty said.
Doty is also impressed with those he is working with on the show, especially the young actor portraying his character’s son.
“I have been invigorated by the energy of young Chris Leatherman, who plays my son, and wowed by the intense work of our incredible cast,” Doty said.
He said the play really speaks about how we tend to miss out on life’s little moments.
“We focus on the big things when it comes to our lifetimes but the key moments are the tiny ones that make up our everyday lives. Smiles, a touch, a joke, a shared laugh. ... These are the glue that hold our rich experiences together,” Doty said.
Bainbridge described “The Shadow Box” as a really emotional show, but said at the same time, it also focuses so much on families of different natures and how far people are willing to go for their loved ones.
“The way the characters are portrayed is real and their lives aren’t sugar-coated. You see faults, you see strengths, you see the good sides and the ugly sides of these people as they try to navigate uncharted waters,” Bainbridge said.
“The Shadow Box” will run Feb. 28 through March 1, and March 6-8, at The Women’s Club, located at 31 S. Prospect St. in Hagerstown. Showtime for the Friday and Saturday shows is at 8 p.m., while the Sunday matinee performances start at 3 p.m.
Tickets for each performance are $15, and are available at the door and online at www.potomacplaymakers.org. The play does have strong adult language and themes, therefore parental discretion is advised.Top photo: Krissi Bainbridge, left, and Amy Fox, act out a scene in "The Shadow Box," a production of The Potomac Playmakers. (Submitted photo)