Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

Jack Kroll’s reaction to The Shadow Box in his article ‘‘Where is Thy Sting?’’ was ‘‘The American way of death is to domesticate it.’’ While Kroll realized Michael Cristofer’s abilities, he did not necessarily find Cristofer’s brilliance exhibited in this play. The reaction on Broadway during the first weeks of the play’s run was also less than favorable, but as word spread, attendance increased.

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What most critics seem to converge on, or wholeheartedly agree to, is the play’s ability to present life as a celebration rather than as a means to an end. In the Washington Post, Richard L. Coe expands on the idea, stating, ‘‘the stings of humor and irony quicken what might have been lugubrious sentimentality.’’ Another value that critics like Coe assign to the work is its ability to express the carelessness with which human beings approach life, and their inability to grasp on to every moment and treasure it. Instead, man, quite naturally, tends to move through life with a sense of urgency and of immediacy from day to day.

The work’s unifying force is its subject matter. Although the inhabitants of Cottages One, Two, and Three are separated physically, their voices come together in the end of the play in a sort of collective resolution. These voices crescendo, and in the end, only serve to amplify the message Cristofer is communicating about the transience or temporary quality of life.

Coe, in another article for the Washington Post, was moved to call The Shadow Box the ‘‘finest play of the New York Season, a beautifully realized drama of sensitive perceptions often as funny as it is moving.’’ The play did win both a Pulitzer Prize in drama and a Tony Award in 1977; however, Cristofer’s career after this time did not measure up to these accomplishments. Brendan Lemon, in his movie review of Gia, directed by Cristofer, offered a luke-warm response to the film’s release in 1998.

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Critical Context


Essays and Criticism