Award-winning community theater director Saul Leibner knows that The Shadow Box, opening Thursday at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse, has been a challenge for his nine actors and will likely be one for the audience.
The 1977 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play is about three people with terminal cancer living at a hospice and dealing with friends and relatives as they face what time they have left.
"Everybody has had a personal loss of a friend or someone in the family," Leibner said. "(This play) is really going to affect people who have lost someone recently."
In Cottage No. 1 is Joe (Gary McCarragher, Oscar in The Odd Couple), a blue-collar worker who has accepted that he is dying. His wife, Maggie (Jeanine Martin, Maggie in The Man Who Came to Dinner), is in denial and hasn't yet told their son Steve (Mark Nelson, Stage West debut) about his father's condition.
In Cottage No. 2 is Brian (Bill Myers, Pickering in My Fair Lady), a bisexual English professor being cared for by his lover, Mark (Dan Brijbag, Mordred in Camelot). When Brian's former wife Beverly (Morgan Reid, M'Lynn in Steel Magnolias) arrives, her rather trashy ways annoy Mark, but she gives Brian an emotional lift.
In Cottage No. 3 is the elderly, cantankerous Felicity (Pat Ryan, Clairee in Steel Magnolias), who doesn't appreciate the loving care of her long-suffering daughter Agnes (Sheryl Depp, Mrs. Ames in Heaven Can Wait) and can only talk longingly about her other daughter Claire, who hasn't been around for years.
An unseen Interviewer (Ken Murrin, Mowbray in Noises Off) asks questions and makes observations throughout the play.
Leibner feels that theater lovers will get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from the play's serious drama, tinged with humorous moments, as done by an extraordinary cast.
"I personally think this is the best cast I have ever had, and I have had some good casts," said the multi HAMI award-winning director. "If you want to see good acting, this is the show."
When The Shadow Box debuted in 1977, the Washington Post reviewer called it "by far the finest play of the New York season, beautifully realized drama of sensitive perceptions often as funny as it is moving." The Boston Globe called it "truly startling and in its uncompromising way, very, very funny."
Leibner describes The Shadow Box as an emotionally taxing drama about death and dying. "It may hit a raw nerve," he said. "Perhaps with tickets, we have to give out a box of tissues."
Even though Leibner himself experienced the death of a loved one when his brother died in May, he is happy that he applied to direct this play.
"It's giving me some catharsis; it's personally helping me," he said.
"I hope the message, in the end, makes us pause to realize our days are short and we should treasure what we have, hold people close and make each day count," he said.