Dramatic ‘Shadow Box’ endures despite changes within theater company

Joe (Chris Davis), left, pauses with Maggie (Ayanna Arnold), right in a scene from Will of the Wind Productions’ play “The Shadow Box.”  It is being staged for the public July 12-14 in the Firehouse Theatre at LHUCA, 511 Ave. K.  (Photo courtesy of Josh Aguirre)
Theater Facts
Attraction: “The Shadow Box,” a drama by Michael Christofer, staged by Will of the Wind Productions.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Firehouse Theatre at LHUCA, 511 Ave K.
Director: Allison Barr.
Scenic, lighting design: Christopher Rogers.
Advisory: Play includes strong language and mature themes.
Tickets: Reserved seats $22.75 (includes service charges), with discounts for groups of 10.
Outlets: Early purchases are advised, with advance ticket sales at willofthewind.org.

Bottom line for those working with Will of the Wind Productions: The show must go on.

Few theatergoers recognize the long hours and challenges that those staging plays endure.

And hey, that’s when everything is running smoothly.

A number of lighter comedies and other family-oriented productions are planned in Lubbock this month – but not by Will of the Wind. Rather, this young theater company will showcase “The Shadow Box,” Michael Cristofer’s prize-winning play about cancer patients.

The play won a Tony Award as Best Play and earned 1977’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

However, the local production – being performed Friday through Sunday at LHUCA – faced unexpected changes.

David Mitchell founded Will of the Wind and simultaneously became executive director and president of its board of directors. The next year, yet less than a month before the current project’s opening, Mitchell resigned all positions, citing “personal reasons.”

To the credit of remaining cast, crew and board members, the non-profit kept going, determined to keep doors open and make “The Shadow Box” happen.

Regardless, timing was unfortunate.

Mitchell had planned his own directing debut and was in the original cast.

Those who remained involved recognized necessities. Cast and board changes were made within days. Joe Babineaux was named interim board president and Ronnie D. Miller became interim executive director. Acting replacements were found quickly, primarily from within the company.

Board members Miller and Joshua Aguirre were experienced in directing, acting and overseeing a prior non-profit. Having already volunteered to help Mitchell and Will of the Wind with publicity and social media, the two teachers dedicated their summer off to caring for Will of the Wind.

Miller announced stage manager Allison Barr would step into Mitchell’s shoes as director. Barr would direct.

Cast members are Chris Davis as Joe, Ayanna Arnold as Maggie, Ben McLarty as Steve, Patrick Jones as Brian, Callie Combest as Beverly, Garrett Benson as Mark, Beth Peterson as Felicity, Dannie DeLisle as Agnes, Ben McLarty as Steve and Andi Babineaux as the interviewer.

The theater opened with 13 men and women on its board of directors. Those remaining include Joseph Aguirre, artistic director; Andi Babineaux; Joe Babineaux, treasurer and interim board president; Griffin Kimble; Ronnie Miller, interim executive director; and Andrew Rasa, secretary.

“We currently are recruiting (board) members who fit our culture and bring a skill set we can utilize,” Miller said during an interview earlier this week,

Aguirre and Miller plan to continue stressing theatrical diversity on and off stage.

Two more Will of the Wind plays are confirmed this year: “Steel Magnolias” in September, and “Frozen Jr.” in December.

The latter opening reflects excellent timing, especially considering the animated movie sequel “Frozen 2” will open nationally Nov. 22.

Meanwhile, Miller expressed excitement about staging what he hopes will be a diverse cast in the popular play “Steel Magnolias.”

“I hope the word is out that we are hoping more women of color will audition,” he said.

Those “Steel Magnolias” auditions are confirmed from 2-4 p.m. this Saturday in the Firehouse Theatre at LHUCA, 511 Ave. K.

Miller said play dates have been reserved for Will of the Wind shows through the next four years at LHUCA.

Closer at hand, however, are this weekend’s three performances of “The Shadow Box.”

Christofer’s play also was adapted into a made-for-television movie, directed in 1980 by Paul Newman. His all-star cast included James Broderick, Valerie Harper, Christopher Plummer, Ben Masters, Joanne Woodward, Sylvia Sidney and Melinda Dillon.

“The Shadow Box” can be “a hard sell because it is a heavy drama,” said Miller.

While the play does not necessarily reveal specific death, Miller and Aguirre mentioned most people who buy tickets have had their lives touched by cancer.

The play takes place over a 24-hour period in three separate cottages on an American hospital grounds. Introduced are three patients – Joe, Brian and Felicity – who plan to live with family members after their official hospital treatment periods end.

All three agree to be part of a study calling for them to be interviewed by a psychiatrist.

The play at LHUCA includes “mature themes and language,” noted Will of the Wind publicity.

Audiences will learn how these patients face death.

People magazine quoted Arizona high school drama teacher Carole Marlowe in 1993 when she said, “I thought it was a very good, very powerful play that had scenes kids could really get into.”

Whether because of the play’s language or a gay subplot, Marlowe lost her job when complaints were heard after she approved her students’ presentation of a scene from “The Shadow Box” during her school’s Fine Arts Week.