Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457
Michael Cristofer, born Michael Procaccino, was born on January 22, 1945, to working-class parents in White Horse, New Jersey (described by Cristofer as being between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Trenton, New Jersey). Deciding to pursue an acting career, Cristofer joined Washington, D.C.’s prestigious Arena Stage Company for the 1967-1968 season but was disenchanted with the roles he received. He lived in Philadelphia during the early 1970’s, becoming part of the Theater of the Living Arts acting company but again felt himself stirred to go farther away from home in search of fame. He briefly appeared in a repertory company in Beirut, Lebanon, served stints in a variety of Philadelphia acting troupes, and made it to Broadway in 1977, cast as Trofimov in the Lincoln Center revival of The Cherry Orchard.
Comparing his own experiences in New York to those of his tragic heroine in his teleplay Gia, Cristofer states that he knows what life was like for an “Italian kid” who wants to leave a stifling hometown and become successful. Until The Shadow Box was produced on Broadway in 1977, Cristofer had met with limited success as an actor. He had had a role in the unaired pilot of Crime Club (Columbia Broadcasting System, 1975) and the 1976 National Broadcasting Company (NBC) remake of The Entertainer and had acquired two motion picture credits for his roles in The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974) and An Enemy of the People (1978), but his acting had not attracted much in the way of either critical attention or financial stability. Then, in 1977, Cristofer began to receive critical praise for his work not just as an actor, but also as a writer. The Shadow Box was a huge critical success, garnering three major awards in four years of production.
Before The Shadow Box’s Broadway run, Cristofer had had a few plays produced (The Mandala, Plot Counter Plot, and Americomedia) but had been relatively uninterested in changing his focus from acting to writing. After The Shadow Box, however, Cristofer found that his writing skills (at least in terms of their critical success) overshadowed his abilities as an actor. Cristofer’s last screen role was as an Arab in The Little Drummer Girl (1984), allowing him to turn his attention fully to the writing of dramatic works. Between 1984 and 2001, Cristofer wrote no fewer than fourteen plays and screenplays. An early produced script was Falling in Love (1984), a loose remake of Brief Encounter (1946) with Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep as married commuters who fall in love. His adaptation of John Updike’s novel The Witches of Eastwick, starring Jack Nicholson as the creator of a modern-day coven (featuring Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon as modern-day witches), even proved to be as financially successful as it was critically acclaimed.
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