Here is a short description of “The Shadow Box,” the latest Kauai Community Players production that opens Feb. 15:
“In this compelling dramatic triptych, three terminal cancer patients dwell in separate cottages on a hospital’s grounds. The three are attended and visited by family and close friends: Agnes and her mother Felicity, estranged further by the latter’s dementia; Brian and Beverly, whose marital complications are exacerbated by Brian’s new lover, Mark; and Joe and Maggie, unready for the strain of Joe’s impending death and its effect on their teenage son.”
Now, that doesn’t sound much like light fare. Doesn’t sound like there will be laughs. Doesn’t sound like there will be cause for hope. Doesn’t sound like there would be thanks involved here.
But before this play is over, there will be some laughter. There will be hope. There will be thanks.
Each of the characters, despite facing the end of their lives, rejects despair and recognizes what counts: Living well.
“You’re here, this is all you get right now,” said Director Jo Grande. “No matter what your problems are, make the most of it in the here and now. Live it, live it. Be happy to be alive.”
Her assistant director, Arnold Meister, said “The Shadow Box” is about living it to the fullest before it’s gone. He rejects the notion offered by some that the second we’re born, we start dying.
“You’re living until you die,” he said.
Grande, seated next to Meister as they chatted over lunch about the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by Michael Cristofer, nodded in agreement.
“The most precious thing you can buy on this Earth is time,” she said. “If you’re wasting it, it’s your fault.”
This is more than a play for these two friends. Each has had run-ins with cancer.
Meister is a cancer survivor. Grande has lost family members and friends to cancer. Her daughter is a cancer survivor.
As well, this is a reunion for them.
Grande and her husband, Wil Welch, played the lead roles of Joe and Maggie in a 1984 production of “The Shadow Box” on Kauai directed by, you guessed it, Arnold Meister.
So when it came around 25 years later for Grande to direct the play, she called Meister with some questions.
He did better than answer them.
“He said, ‘I’ll be your assistant director,’ and I went ‘Yippee,’” Grande said, laughing. “It’s been a collaboration more than assistant director. He’s been a godsend. Little tweaks here and there, that’s where he’s been a godsend to me.”
“He’s used to being the boss, so am I,” Grande added. “Somehow, it’s working.”
She said it’s not quite what she expected.
“This guy, something is wrong with him. He’s being way too nice. I’m used to him directing me, saying, ‘I’m the director and you’re not.’ Those are his famous words.”
“I”m very lucky,” she added.
Meister said that 1984 play was well-received, and he expects the same for this newest version.
“It’s a touching play,” he said. “The writing is excellent and the cast we have is phenomenal.”
Grande is confident the play will be popular.
“You will walk out of there crying and laughing at the same time,” she said.
The play deals with what are referred to as the five stages of death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“Its’a tumultuous kind of thing,” Meister said. “As you watch the play, you see those people going through it. It’s very touching.”
The characters gradually come to terms with their fate, even finding humor in it and, finally, being OK with where they’re headed.
One of the characters, in a discussion about their time on Earth, says, “I’m a little more concerned with it than you know. I don’t have much more left.”
Grande said it’s long been on her mind to direct “The Shadow Box.”
“This is an important play to do again,” she said. “I really think for me this play is like a memento to all the people I’ve lost.”
Cole Diamond plays Steven, son of Maggie and Joe; Taj Gutierrez is Mark, young lover of Brian; Husband and wife, Maggie and Joe, are played by Rebecca Hanson and Patrick O’Connor; Sabrina Patrov is Felicity’s shy, quiet daughter; Claudia Cowden is Beverly, former wife of Brian; Jim Warrack is Brian; Cher Ellwood is the old farm woman Felicity; Jeff Demma is the interviewer.
Demma is never seen, only heard, as he interviews the patients about their lives.
“It’s a different twist on a play, which I like,” Grande said.
It’s a mix of veterans and rookies. Patrov has never been on the stage before.
“When you see her, you will be blown away,” Meister said.
He credited Grande with coaching her early on during rehearsals.
“It was like a transformation,” Meister said. “‘She just became that character.”
“I’m really proud of her,” Grande said.
Meister said being assistant director — new for him — has been a pleasant change.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I’m learning so much sitting by Jo because she has this spontaneity in directing, which I think is so wonderful. She can look at a scene that’s already working and spot what’s not working.”
Meister said he hopes people realize “The Shadow Box” is not just about people dying — but people discovering more about living, about finding joy in the moments.
The play ends with those facing their own mortality, overcoming anger and demanding to know, “why me?” They become thankful, appreciative, for what they’ve had, what they’re doing, and what they still have left to do.
They go from saying “no” to dying to “yes.”
“It’s about how important it is to make the most of what you’ve got. Don’t put it off. Do it,” Grande said.
She hopes the audience listens closely in the final scenes of “The Shadow Box.”
“Right now is all you’ve got. Make the most of it,” she said.
“You may be dying, but you’re living,” Meister added. “I may be dying, but I’m alive now.”
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.