ACT’s ‘The Shadow Box’ well worth seeing

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 30, 2001

Be sure to bring a few tissues to the Albert Lea Community Theatre production of &uot;The Shadow Box.

Friday, March 30, 2001

Be sure to bring a few tissues to the Albert Lea Community Theatre production of &uot;The Shadow Box.&uot;

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The Pulizer Prize-winning drama is sure to bring a few tears to the eyes. It’s touching. It’s sensitive. It’s well done. And it’s like nothing ACT has done in recent years.

&uot;The Shadow Box&uot; is the story of three terminal cancer patients dwelling in separate cottages on hospital grounds. Patients are moved to these cottages when there is nothing left to be done medically for them.

The play dramatizes their anxieties and their coming to grips with the finality of their condition, a pre-ordained future whose only imponderable is its exact length. The characters are in various stages in their terminal illness – denial, anger, bargaining with God, depression and acceptance. It may sound a bit depressing, but this play is filled with sensitive perception as well as humor. As director Patrick Rasmussen said, this is a play that needs to be performed, given the fact that almost everyone’s life has been touched by cancer in one way or another.

In one cottage is Joe (Paul Somers), who is visited by his wife, Maggie (Lisa Sturtz) and teen-age son, Steve (Stephen Thorn). Because they couldn’t afford to visit, they last saw each other about six months ago. Maggie is in denial, and feels if she doesn’t go in the cottage, she doesn’t have to face the fact. She also hasn’t told their son his father’s dying. The couple spend a lot of time talking about what almost was, what might have been, what they were never able to hold onto.

In the next cottage is Brian (Larry Lodermeier) whose gay companion Mark (James Stripe) has been faithfully there to take care of him. Mark’s thrown for a loop when Brian’s ex-wife Beverly (Jami Shoemaker) comes for a visit. Brian always has wanted to write, and in his final months, is writing with fury. He also told people what he thought of them, so the wrong people wouldn’t come to the funeral. He doesn’t want to leave anything undone.

In the last cottage is a mother, Felicity (Lee Bangert) and her daughter Agnes (Cindy Langeberg) who is her caregiver. Felicity is angry at doctors for doing so many operations. She slips in and out of reality, and calls constantly for the daughter she lost years before, Claire. Meanwhile, Agnes keeps writing letters, letters she says are from Claire. &uot;Is it wrong to give them something to keep them going?&uot; Agnes asks, while she wants it all to end. Meanwhile, Felicity continues to hold on with the hope that Claire will come to see her.

In between segments, a doctor (the voice of Randy Kehr) asks the patients and their families how they feel and what they need. Along the way, they learn a few things about themselves. These vignettes tie one scene and one patient to the next.

The set is simple: there are three areas, one for each patient, as well as the center area for talking with the doctor while under a bright light. Spotlights play a key role here, especially since many of the characters who aren’t part of the action often stay on stage.

A lot of credit goes to these actors. Audiences are used to seeing Stripe and Sturtz in comic roles. Their efforts here illustrate the depth of their talents. Bangert is exceptional as the bitter mother. She too has been in many comedies for ACT.

ACT newcomers Langeberg, of Owatonna, and Shoemaker, of St. Paul, also give strong performances. How Langeberg’s character can tolerate her mother’s obvious favoritism toward her dead sister, while she continues to provide the care without complaint, is amazing. Shoemaker is wonderful as the floozy who harbors much affection for her ex-husband, yet needs to get drunk to see him again because she knows how much she’ll miss him.

Somers and Lodermeier, both of Owatonna, are no strangers to ACT, and are convincing as the two dying men. Their frustration with what’s going on is extremely believable. Both men’s characters are likable; they make the audience ask the question, &uot;Why them?&uot;

Thorn successfully makes the transition from family / children’s show to an adult production.

And speaking of adult productions, this one’s not for kids. Some of the language is strong, and some of the themes are adult. But high schoolers and older junior high students could certainly get a lot out of &uot;The Shadow Box.&uot;

Opening night’s performance Thursday was a fund-raiser for Crossroads Community Hospice. Ticket sales went to benefit the local program.

&uot;The Shadow Box&uot; continues tonight and Saturday and again April 4-7 at the Albert Lea Civic Theatre. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 377-4371, or stop by.

Don’t miss this one. Because not only should &uot;The Shadow Box&uot; be performed, it should be seen.