On Theater: 'Shadow Box' is a strong, compelling drama at WCT

Rarely in community theater do a superb play, a skilled director and a powerful cast combine to produce such a memorable evening as those involved in "The Shadow Box" are offering at the Westminster Community Theatre.

Michael Cristofer's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama of hospice residents dealing with the inevitability of death is one of the most challenging of assignments. When the project is realized as successfully as it is here, it is cause for rejoicing.

Impending mortality is not the easiest of subjects to project from the stage, but director Lenore Stjerne has tackled it head-on with a production both profane and profound. It's not for the youngsters or the faint of heart, but theater connoisseurs will find it both enriching and engrossing.

Cristofer sets his drama in three cottages at a Northern California hospice facility where three terminally ill patients and their loved ones confront the fate awaiting them in the not-too-distant future. They could not be more dissimilar.

Joe (Richard DeVicariis), who occupies the first cottage, is a factory worker, blunt and plain-spoken with a realistic attitude, in contrast to his jittery wife Maggie (Kimberly Wooldridge), who not only can't deal with the subject, she can't bring herself to enter his cottage. Their teenage son Steve (Christian Hutcherson) is quite normal — but he hasn't been told his father is dying — and the parents are bitterly consumed by the past and what might have been.

In the second cottage, Brian (Richard Comeau), an erudite and loquacious fellow who has changed lifestyles in midstream, acts as referee between his outgoing ex-wife Beverly (Laura Flores) and his reticent male lover Mark (Robert Dominguez). Passions erupt, occasionally violently, as the raunchy, drunken Beverly takes command, injecting some much-needed comic relief into a grim situation.

The third cottage is occupied by Felicity (Beth Titus), a demented, wheelchair-bound old woman chafing under the care of her dutiful daughter (Tara Golson) and awaiting the visit of another, favored daughter who will never arrive. It's a heart-wrenching story, masterfully enacted.

There is a ninth character, the interviewer, written as a disembodied voice but played here as a compassionate figure (Kathleen Fabry) seeking to bring out each patient's thoughts and feelings. Giving the voice a physical presence works beautifully.

This is as fine an ensemble as you'll encounter in community theater, strongly depicting the force and conviction that drives each. The intimacy of the WCT thrust stage works splendidly in the show's favor, increasing the actors' rapport with their audience.

(A little full disclosure: The actress playing Felicity is, indeed, my ex-wife, although that curtain fell long ago. Also, I'm more than a bit familiar with the play, having directed it twice and performed in the second production. And this one still blew me away.)

"The Shadow Box" is one of the strongest and most challenging dramas available to local theater companies. Its production in Westminster should be witnessed by every serious playgoer.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "The Shadow Box"

Where: Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Westminster

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 30

Cost: $10 to $17

Information: (714) 527-5546 or http://www.wctstage.org

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