But would being faced by the sense of your own mortality make you a better person — a more caring, loving partner, parent, sibling? Or would you grieve for yourself until your light grew dim?
How would your family react if you were running out of time? What guise would their grief wear? The Shadow Box, written by actor Michael Cristofer and winner of the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a chilling splash of water that offers you a glimpse into that abyss.
Wit and wisdom combine with a visceral fear dramatised to prod fear and hope in equal measure in the play, a version of which is being performed this weekend at the Junction by a UAE-grown troupe that calls itself chapter one creates (C1C).
Ahead of the shows at the Junction, from September 20-22, Ian J Halstead, one of the C1C founders, says he’s loved the story for a long, long time. Three people — Joe, Brian and Felicity — claustrophobic in the knowledge that death is near are confronted by family, friends and (an impartial) interviewer about the time they have left, their feelings and their close ones’ distress.
“This is a story about families; a lot of people read the script and they think it’s about death — it’s not, it’s about love and families and how those families deal with each other,” says Halstead. “What you would do for somebody else, what you would give up for yourself, how you would deal with own limits and exceed them for the love you bear for someone else,” says Halstead.
For Joe, whose wife and son are visiting, it’s a question of tempering his own despair; for Brian it is the putting away of that aloof-matter-of-fact snark that lingers atop his fear; for Felicity, who is hare-brained one minute and lucid the next, and her daughter Agnes, it’s a question of putting reality to the side for just a little bit longer.
Add Brian’s partner and notably drunk ex-wife into the mix and you’ve got yourself a diversity of characters that can realistically explore how different people process grief in different ways.
Kirin Hilliar, who plays The Interviewer, is a psychologist in real life. And that experience is something she draws on for her role. “When I was reading the script the title says The Interviewer, I really saw her as a research psychologist,” she explains. “She’s always there in a Big Brother-esq type role, in a way that Ian has structured it I’m always there so I’m in the audience and I’m observing the entire play just as the audience is and I’ll be reacting to that… how many audience members are going to notice what I’m doing and register that is going to be interesting to see.”
What’s unique about the way this play is staged, says Halstead, “is that the fourth wall is almost broken”.
Sitting alongside the psychologist, the audience begins to play a role — of doctor, listener, healer and judge. “There is no one right way to do that [deal with loss]. I’ve had loss within my family, and it [the play] prompted me to look back…at how much of [how I behaved] had to do with my relationship with the person as opposed to what I felt I kind of needed to do at that point to cope with that situation,” says Hilliar.
Somewhere along the process — of listening to these characters come to terms with the inevitable — you begin to forgive yourself for real-life bloopers. You begin to think of those you cherished and the time you have left. You begin to realise that everything ends.
Don’t miss it!
The Shadow Box runs at the Junction from September 20-22 at 7.30; and an additional 2.30pm show on September 22. Tickets start at 95.