Michael Cristofer's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Shadow Box" deals with an issue that strikes close to home with most adults - the impending death of a family member.
Christopher Fidram faced many of the issues the play covers as he prepared to direct the production that opens Friday at the Youngstown Playhouse's Moyer Room as part of its Griffith-Adler Actors Series. His mother had to be taken to the hospital after the second night of auditions, and she died after a long illness.
"We began rehearsing the day after my mother's funeral," Fidram said. "It's been a cathartic experience, and it's been frightening at times."
Fidram has been a fan of the play since he was a teenager.
"It's one of the first plays I read back in high school that really affected me," he said. "The dialogue was so natural and real. It sounded the way people actually speak. I could visualize these people in my head. I enjoyed that conversational dialogue and I still do."
The play also was a popular choice for duet acting teams at National Forensic League competitions when Fidram was in high school, and he saw cuts from the script many times at tournaments.
If You Go
WHAT: "The Shadow Box"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and March 8 to 9
WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown
HOW MUCH: $17 for adults; $14 for students and seniors
Cristofer's drama explores end-of-life issues through three stories that take place in hospice cottages on the grounds of a hospital, and each of the terminal patients has agreed to be interviewed by a psychiatrist. The families include a daughter and her mother, who is battling dementia; a wife and husband, with the wife refusing to accept her husband's diagnosis and keeping their teenaged son in the dark about his father's condition; and a divorced couple, with the ex-wife's feelings about her former husband complicated by the presence of his current gay lover.
The cast for the Playhouse production includes David El'Hatton, Donna Huntley, Jason Green, Dana Dunnavant, Trish Terlesky, Eric Kibler, Cyndi Plyler, Donny Wolford and Taylor Dunnavant.
Traditionally, "The Shadow Box" is staged with three separate sets representing the different colleges. Fidram decided to use the same set to represent all three cottages with the actors passing one another but never interacting.
"It makes sense," he said. "They're all kind of walking along the same path, even though they don't see each other."
Fidram said his personal experience certainly had an impact on his approach to the work, but he tried not to let what he was dealing with alter the play or his actors' performances.
"You can't help but be influenced by it, but at the same time you have to make that separation and say, 'This is not my story'," he said. "I have a brilliant cast of actors, and I kept employing them to share what you know, share what has happened to you and be brave about it."