“The Shadow Box” certainly isn’t light and fun-filled entertainment, but it is intriguing, according to Emmett Ferris.
“I find it gripping because it deals with reality,” said Ferris, who plays one of three featured characters in Michael Cristofer’s play about death and dying. “It’s a reality we all have to deal with eventually.”
Mounted by Our Own Productions of Rotterdam and staged at the Emmanuel-Friedens Church on Nott Terrace in Schenectady, “The Shadow Box” will run for the next two weekends. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. A portion of the proceeds will go to The Community Hospice, a group very familiar with the subject matter in the 1977 Tony Award-winning Broadway smash.
“The show is about a trio of terminally ill patients and how they interact with family and friends,” said Susan Eliashuk, who is producing the show for Our Own Productions. “I thought it’d be a perfect way to help out Community Hospice, and the people at Emmanuel-Friedens were very happy to host it. And it actually is a very interesting play; not nearly as depressing as it sounds.”
‘The Shadow Box’
WHERE: Emmanuel-Friedens Church, 218 Nott Terrace, Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, through March 28
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: oopsny.tripod.com
Ferris plays Brian, a bisexual English professor who is terminally ill and is being cared for by his lover, Mark, played by Ryan Semerad. Also in the mix is Brian’s ex-wife Beverly, played by Liana Robinson Martino.
“One of my lines in the play is that ‘people think it’s supposed to last forever,’ and we spend most of lives forgetting that it doesn’t,” said Ferris. “My character is dying and he has to realize that. He’s not bedridden, but it’s obvious that it’s terminal and that this is the last stop. It’s all very, very intense.”
“The Shadow Box” ran for less than a year on Broadway, but won two Tonys and earned two more nominations, as well as the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Cristofer. Mandy Patinkin and Simon Oakland starred in the Broadway production, while a 1980 television movie directed by Paul Newman and starring Joanne Woodward and Christopher Plummer was nominated for three Emmys and won a Golden Globe.
His own mark
“I haven’t seen any version because there was not one to be found,” said Ferris. “But that’s OK. I just decided to put my own stamp on it and do the best I could. Hopefully it will be well-received.”
Ferris is coming off a recent production of “Reckless” by the Classic Theatre Guild in which he played multiple characters. Last fall he earned universally great reviews for his portrayal of Hoke Colburn in the Curtain Call Theatre production of “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“I felt like that role was written for me, and I had a lot of fun doing it,” said Ferris, referring to the character made famous by Morgan Freeman in the 1980 Hollywood version. “I got reviews that were so good they couldn’t have been better if I had written them myself. I was very proud, and I don’t know if I can do that sort of thing again with a performance, but that’s my goal. That’s what I’m striving for.”
The other two terminally-ill patients in the play are Joe, a middle-aged blue-collar family man played by Daniel B. Martin, and Felicity, an elderly woman portrayed by Laura Slingerland Casey. Kelly Blitz plays Maggie, Joe’s wife, and Ryan Moran is his son Steve, while Rita Machin plays Agnes, Felicity’s long-suffering daughter. Scott Dani is the interviewer and serves as the play’s narrator.
Cecilia Gray is directing “The Shadow Box” for Our Own Productions, which was formed in 2005 by Mohonasen High School graduate Leslie Eliashuk, now a graduate student at The College of Saint Rose.
The group will also produce two more shows this season, “Arsenic and Old Lace” in May and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in July. It was last fall when Our Own Productions joined forces with Emmanuel-Friedens to produce “Backyard Broadway,” a fundraising event for the church’s scholarship program.
“We give scholarships to graduating high school seniors that have participated in their schools’ gay and straight alliance clubs,” said Emmanuel-Friedens pastor Larry Phillips.
“People from Our Own Productions volunteered to help us for that cause, so we thought this would be a great way to help them and help Hospice, which is certainly a wonderful organization. It’s also a great opportunity for us because we do have a number of members involved in the theater community, and this is a great way to expand our ministry in the arts. It’s something we’ve been talking about doing for a while, and it certainly complements all that’s happening in downtown Schenectady.”
Don Stake, a spokesperson for The Community Hospice, said it’s an enjoyable way to help his group raise more money.
“I haven’t seen it, but it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and Paul Newman directed the television version, so those are two pretty good recommendations,” he said.
“I’m looking forward very much to seeing it, and we think that Our Own Productions should be commended for taking on a play that deals with end-of-life issues.”
Stake said he couldn’t remember a similar event in recent memory.
“We’ve occasionally had musical performances that were fundraisers for us, but I can’t think of anything like this,” he said.
“It’s very generous of them to do it, and it’s a great opportunity to help people get better educated and raise awareness about all the emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions related to death and dying issues.”