The Shadow Box

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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. It is the winner of the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play was made into a telefilm, ditrected by Paul Newman in 1980.

Plot synopsis[edit]

The play takes place over twenty-four hours, in three separate cottages 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][2]

Act One

It is morning and Joe is sitting in the interview area talking to the interviewer.[2] 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,[3]while Steve has no idea of his father’s impending death.

Brian takes 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.[4] Beverly, Brian's "trashy but devoted ex-wife" arrives.[5]

The third family is Felicity and her daughter Agnes. Felicityis " an old woman who drifts between senility and combative lucidness." Her daughter Agnes is "a mousy, browbeaten spinster who tries to keep her mother happy with fictional letters from a daughter who in fact is long dead."[4]

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 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.[1]


The Shadow Box premiered in a production of the Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, California, in the 1975-76 season, directed by Gordon Davidson (artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum).[6][2]

The play opened on Broadway on March 31, 1977 at the Morosco Theatre[7] and closed on December 31, 1977, after 315 performances.[8][9]

The play was directed by Gordon Davidson with scenery by Ming Cho Lee, costumes by Bill Walker, and lighting by Ronald Wallace. The 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).[9]

Mary Carver replaced Fitzgerald on April 30, 1977 and Clifton James replaced Oakland on May 23, 1977.[10][9]

Film adaptation[edit]

Cristofer adapted the play for a television movie in 1980, directed by Paul Newman. 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).[11]

It went on to be nominated for three Emmy Awards: Outstanding Drama Special, Teleplay adaption (Cristofer), and Director (Newman),[11] and to win a Golden Globe. [12]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Source: PlaybillVault[9]

  • 1977 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New American Play
  • 1977 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play (Rose Gregorio, Joyce Ebert)
  • 1977 Tony Award, Featured Actor in a Play (Laurence Luckinbill)
  • 1977 Tony Award, Featured Actress in a Play (Rose Gregorio, Patricia Elliot)


  1. ^ a b Leah, Frank D. “THEATER REVIEW; The Shadow Box Explores Mortality” The New York Times 12 November 12, 1989
  2. ^ a b c Cristofer, Michael. "Introduction", "The Shadow Box: A Drama in Two Acts", Samuel French, Inc., 1977, ISBN 0573616132, pp.3-7
  3. ^ Kennedy, Lisa. "Theater review: Refusals and surrender dance in 'The Shadow Box'" Denver Post, May 3, 2013
  4. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review. 'The Shadow Box'; Death Outruns a Play From 1977" The New York Times, November 21, 1994
  5. ^ Gerard, Jeremy. "Review. 'The Shadow Box'" Variety, November 20, 1994
  6. ^ Boehm, Mike. "Davidson the director reemerges" Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2003
  7. ^ Barnes, Clive. "Stage: Inside 'The Shadow Box'" The New York Times (abstract), April 1, 1977, p.50
  8. ^ "'Shadow Box' Going Out With the Old Year" The New York Times (abstract), December 22, 1977, p.57
  9. ^ a b c d "'The Shadow Box' Broadway", accessed November 17, 2015
  10. ^ "'The Shadow Box', 1977 listing" InternetBroadwayDatabase, accessed November 24, 2011
  11. ^ a b "'The Shadow Box' Film", accessed November 17, 2015
  12. ^ "'The Shadow Box' Film", accessed November 17, 2015
  13. ^ "Pulitzer Prize for Drama", accessed November 17, 2015
  • Napierkowski, Marie Rose ed. (January 2006). "The Shadow Box: Introduction". Drama for Students. eNotes. vol. 15 (Detroit: Gale). Retrieved 2008-06-24. 

External links[edit]