Critical Context

With the rise of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and the popularity of television talk shows in the late twentieth century, frank discussion about intimate issues such as terminal illness became commonplace. Plays from this period, such as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Parts One and Two (pr. 1991, pb. 1992; pr. 1992, pb. 1993), deal honestly and openly with death and dying in a way that overshadows this sometimes sentimental play by Michael Cristofer. However, when Cristofer first wrote The Shadow Box in 1975, the idea of a hospice was still experimental and no prior play had dealt with this topic in such an unapologetic manner. Perhaps that is why it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 and became an unexpected success for its author.

The play also experienced a great deal of controversy, primarily as a result of some of the language and the openly homosexual couple. The play continues to be banned from production in some high school and community theaters. Many educators and theater artists recognize the power of the life-affirming message of the play and the challenging roles it offers to actors, but pressure from parents and community members has forced many productions to close and teachers to be dismissed from their jobs.

Although most would call The Shadow Box a critical success since it garnered the Pulitzer Prize in drama and the Tony Award for best play in 1977, many critics originally...

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