Michael Cristofer Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Michael Cristofer is said to be a man of many talents who loves drama in all of its varied forms: He has been an actor, a screenwriter, a playwright, a producer, and a director. Although he got his start writing plays such as The Shadow Box in the 1970’s and returned to the theater with Amazing Grace and Breaking Up in the 1990’s, Cristofer never ignored the “big screen”—the motion picture industry—because of any single-minded devotion to theater. Although writing for the stage is his preferred pursuit, Cristofer’s love for dramatic writing has led him also to write screenplays. Sometimes he has rewritten his own plays, such as his 1999 screenplay version of Breaking Up, but he created other screenplays, including his adaptation of John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick (1987), solely for the motion picture industry.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

After he spent ten largely unremarkable years as an actor, Michael Cristofer’s fortunes changed when he took his play The Shadow Box and produced it Off-Broadway. With this character piece about three patients at a hospice for the terminally ill, Cristofer won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize in Drama and a 1977 Tony Award. This was not the last time The Shadow Box would receive praise: In 1980, when he rewrote The Shadow Box for television, the play again was lauded—this time with the 1981 Humanitas Prize for Best Screenplay and a nomination for both a Golden Globe (Best Screenplay) and an Emmy (Best Television Drama). These accomplishments seemed to spur Cristofer on to success in his previously uncelebrated acting career; he received an Obie Award in 1979 (for his performance in Chinchilla at the Phoenix Theatre) and a Theater World Award (for his role Trofimov in Andre Serban’s production of The Cherry Orchard at Lincoln Center) even though his interest in acting was waning in favor of the greater promise of success at writing. Amazing Grace was granted the American Theatre Critics Association’s Best New Play Award in 1996. The 1998 teleplay Gia further demonstrated Cristofer’s ability to write convincing drama: He won the Director’s Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television Award (1998), was nominated the same year for the Writer’s Guild of America Television Award (1998), and even managed to receive a nomination for an Emmy (Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie, 1999).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Abele, Elizabeth. “Michael Cristofer.” Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture 10 (March, 2001). Abele’s discussion of Cristofer’s treatment of the dying process (Kubler-Ross’s five stages) seems particularly useful in understanding the basic themes behind many, if not most, of Cristofer’s theatrical dramas. According to Abele, Cristofer seems to be constantly working through images of death and rebirth, denial and transcendence, and the processes that make living and dying so diffcult.

Amorosi, A. D. “Twenty Questions: Michael Cristofer.” City Paper (January 29-February 5, 1998): 86-87. Amorosi’s article, one of a relative handful dealing with Cristofer’s theatrical writings, allows Cristofer to draw connections between his personal history and his written works. Amorosi points out how closely Cristofer associates with his focal characters, even to the point of descending into sentimentality or bathos. The success of The Witches of Eastwick versus the failure of Mr. Jones seems to describe Cristofer’s overly intense preoccupation with character identification.

Rawson, Chris. “Legit Reviews: Amazing Grace.” Review of Amazing Grace by Michael Cristofer. Variety 360, no. 13 (October 30, 1995): 18. A favorable review of a performance of Amazing Grace by the Pittsburgh Public Theatre.

Savlov, Mark. “Breaking Up.” Austin Chronicle, October 20, 1997, pp. 62-65. Savlov interviews Australian actor Russell Crowe on the difficulties of portraying Steven, the stolid photographer in the film version of Cristofer’s 1997 play Breaking Up. Savlov reports that Crowe found the character to be particularly difficult to play because of his uncommunicative nature and also found Cristofer’s script itself to be very complex and challenging. He contrasts the differing goals of Cristofer and director Greenberg.