By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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It was a minister, years ago, who posed that question. But Swarbrick Dries was reminded of it this spring, as she began rehearsing “The Shadow Box,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play to open tonight at the Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road.
“The Shadow Box” is about three households where three people face the end of their lives. It is about hospice care and about saying goodbye.
But it is also about living the moments you’re given, said Swarbrick Dries.
The actress, who lives in Dungeness when not performing in theaters across the West, is entranced by “The Shadow Box.” It’s the spring Readers Theatre Plus production, with six performances this weekend and next.
As with all Readers Theatre Plus events, “The Shadow Box” is a fundraiser for a local nonprofit; the beneficiary this time is Peninsula Friends of Animals (www.SafeHavenPFOA.org).
This is the story of Joe (Ric Munhall), a blue-collar worker who, when we meet him, hasn’t seen his family in many months. We get to know him along with his son Steve, played by 13-year-old James Simonson, and his wife Maggie, played by Debbie Leach.
In their cottage, the family goes through the stages of grief, Leach said. Her character has her feet firmly planted in the disbelief phase.
Then there is the terminally ill Brian (Pat Owens), with his lover Mark (Michael Aldrich) and Brian’s ex-wife Beverly. She’s played by Swarbrick Dries.
This character is facing her former spouse’s death in much the same way she’s lived her life: by being inebriated a lot of the time.
The third family group has Felicity (Barbara Drennan), a disabled woman whose daughter Agnes (Grace Yelland) cares for her. Her body and mind are failing; she passes the days in a wheelchair, remembering Agnes’ sister, who was her mother’s favorite.
All three families have agreed to take part in a psychological experiment. They’re living in small cottages, together like a shadow box. While they converse on stage, an interviewer is seated opposite them.
This ringleader, played by Jim Dries, learns a lot from the families, said Owens, who is directing the play as well as playing the part of Brian.
Roger Pressley was initially cast in that role, but a family emergency required him to drop out, Owens said.
“The Shadow Box” may sound like a sad story, Owens acknowledged, but he finds it to be nothing of the kind.
The play “is very good-hearted. It’s full of humor,” he said. “Some of the exchanges between Beverly and Mark and Brian are just hilarious,” for instance.
“The Shadow Box” debuted on Broadway in 1977; Michael Cristofer’s play won the Pulitzer as well as a Tony Award for best play. In 1980, the late Paul Newman made a television movie of it starring his wife Joanne Woodward.
The Readers Theatre Plus production runs about 105 minutes with an intermission, Owens said. And this play, said Swarbrick Swarbrick Dries, is filled with poignancy and laughter. The dying and their loved ones travel through the stages of disbelief, anger, bargaining and acceptance at each one’s own pace.
For Drennan, who portrays the wheelchair-bound Felicity, “The Shadow Box” speaks to the need for celebrating life. “Dance while you can,” she said.
This story, added Swarbrick Swarbrick Dries, reminds us to show up for each day of life. It’s about “seizing every opportunity,” she said, “to live, to relate, to care.”
Curtain times are 7:30 tonight and Saturday as well as next Friday and Saturday, April 26-27; at 2 p.m. this Saturday; and finally at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28.
Tickets are $15 each at the door or two for $25 if purchased in advance at Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St. in Sequim, or Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., Port Angeles.
More information, awaits at www.ReadersTheatrePlus.com and 360-797-3337.