Cristofer, Michael 1945(?)–
Cristofer, Michael 1945(?)–
(Michael Ivan Cristofer, Michael Procaccino)
PERSONAL: Born Michael Procaccino, January 22, 1945 (some sources say 1946), in White Horse, NJ (some sources say Trenton, NJ); changed name to Michael Cristofer during the 1960s; son of Joseph Peter and Mary (Muccioli) Procaccino. Education: Attended Catholic University of America, 1962–65, and American University, Beirut, Lebanon, 1968–69.
ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Dramatists Play Service, 440 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10016 Agent—Richard Lovett, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
CAREER: Playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor. Repertory actor for Arena Stage, Washington, 1967–68, Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA, 1968, Beirut Repertory Co., Beirut, Lebanon, 1968–69, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1970, and Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 1972–75. Television appearances include The Entertainer, 1975, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, 1975, and Knuckle, 1976. Appeared in films Enemy of the People, 1976, Little Drummer Girl, 1983, and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, 1995. Director of films, including Gia, Body Shots, 1999, and Original Sin, 2001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for acting, 1973; Theatre World Award for performance, 1977; Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama, both 1977, both for The Shadow Box; OBIE Award for acting, Village Voice, 1979; Directors Guild of America Award, 1998, for Gia; Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award nomination, both for television adaptation of The Shadow Box.
The Mandala, produced by the Theater of Living Arts Workshop, Philadelphia, 1968.
Plot Counter Plot, produced November 26, 1971, Saint Clements Church, New York.
Americomedia, first produced March 18, 1973, Washington Square Methodist Church, New York.
The Shadow Box (produced October 30, 1975, at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles; performed on Broadway, March 31, 1977, at the Morosco Theatre), Drama Book Specialists (New York, NY), 1977, produced for television 1980.
Ice, produced September 16, 1976, at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, CA, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1984.
Black Angel (produced May 18, 1978, at the Mark Taper Forum), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1984.
C. C. Pyle and the Bunyon Derby, produced fall, 1978, at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.
The Lady and the Clarinet, produced August 13, 1980, at the Mark Taper Forum, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1985.
Love Me or Leave Me, first produced in Woodstock, New York, 1989.
Amazing Grace, first produced at Public Theater, Pittsburgh, PA, 1995, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1998.
Breaking Up, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1999.
Also author of plays Vanities, The Great American Belly Dance, and Amazing Grace.
Falling in Love, Paramount, 1986.
The Witches of Eastwick, Warner, 1987.
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Warner, 1990.
Mr. Jones, Sony, 1991.
(With Jay McInerney) Gia (television movie), HBO, 1998.
Original Sin (based on the novel Waltz into Darkness, by Cornell Woolrich), MGM, 2001.
Also author of screenplay Void Moon, 2005. Author of story for screenplay Casanova.
SIDELIGHTS: Michael Cristofer had already established himself as a talented actor when he began to earn respect as a skillful and stimulating dramatist as well. His first major work, The Shadow Box, won both the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. Since then, Cristofer has gone on to write numerous other plays and screenplays, including Gia, a television movie based on the short life of supermodel Gia Carangi, who was one of the first women in the public eye to die of AIDS. He has also written or cowritten film adaptations of bestselling novels, such as John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick and Thomas Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, and has directed films as well. As a playwright and screenwriter, Cristofer has been praised for his use of techniques which are purely dramatic rather than literary or novelistic.
Born Michael Procaccino in Trenton, New Jersey, Cristofer attended the Catholic University of America from 1962 to 1965, before dropping out to begin his acting career. In 1967, Cristofer performed with the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia, where he staged his first play, Mandala. In 1971 Cristofer's fourth play, Plot Counter Plot, was produced in New York, and the following year his revolutionary street theater production of Americomedia toured the East Coast during the presidential campaign. The Shadow Box premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, with which Cristofer was then affiliated, in 1975, and two years later the play debuted on Broadway. Accolades accrued from both Cristofer's play writing and acting; he won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award in 1973 and a Theatre World Award in 1977. Cristofer has written several other plays, most notably Black Angel, but since the mid-1980s his focus has shifted toward work in film.
The Shadow Box is a candid treatment of terminal illness, presenting the stories of three terminal patients and showing how they cope with life and their impending deaths. The play covers one twenty-four-hour period and is set in three private cottages of a hospice-type facility. The first patient is Brian, who is living with his male lover when his ex-wife pays them a visit. Next, Felicity, a feisty, elderly woman, is tended to by her daughter Agnes, who writes her unsuspecting mother letters signed with her dead sister's name. The third patient is Joe, a working-class man whose wife refuses to acknowledge his terminal condition and fails to inform their son.
The three sets of characters never actually meet, but their rooms and their stories are presented as one, underlining the commonality of death. Cristofer's sure sense of the theatrical is praised by an essayist for Contemporary Dramatists, who further notes that the playwright also possesses a keen ear for language, evident even in the title. The term "shadow box" suggests an artificial arrangement, such as the hospice setting in which the characters find themselves; it also suggests boxing or fighting, as the characters continue to fight for their lives even as they know their time is running short. "If the play begins with an emphasis on words, it ends with an extraordinary coda in which life is celebrated in the face of death," wrote the essayist. Reviewing The Shadow Box for the New York Times, Walter Kerr noted that it might "easily seem a sociological tract … if it weren't possessed of a psychological vigor that compels us to focus on its tart, talkative, undefeated people rather than its thesis."
In his other plays, Cristofer explores equally provocative themes. Ice is an expressionistic play about basic human instincts, involving two men and a woman in a cabin during an Alaskan blizzard, while Black Angel concerns Nazism, vigilantism, and the degree to which evil actions are forgivable. Cristofer's literary reputation rests primarily on The Shadow Box, however.
Cristofer garnered attention for his 1998 film made for HBO, Gia, which portrayed the life and death of international fashion model Gia Carangi. Born to a middle-class Philadelphia family and traumatized at an early age by her broken home life, Gia went to New York City in the late 1970s to begin a modeling career. Almost immediately, her energy and good looks captured the world of high fashion, and she sailed to the top of the modeling world. Money and attention were not enough to fill the void of loneliness and unhappiness Gia constantly felt, however. She turned to alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, and soon had a serious problem with addiction. Gia's involvement with drugs destroyed her career, and although she eventually managed to go through rehabilitation, she had contracted AIDS from intravenous drug use. Gia died, largely alone and forgotten, only a few years after she had dominated the pages of top publications with her glamorous image. Angelina Jolie portrayed Gia in the film, which was considered a breakout role for the actress. Cristofer directed Gia as well as writing the script. Reviewing Gia for the Advocate, Brendan Lemon called it "quite watchable," although cautioning that "a struggle with drugs is almost impossible to bring to life in ways that compel our interest rather than our sympathy." Variety reviewer Ray Richmond called Gia "uncompromisingly bleak" but "artistically ambitious," and recommended it as "a potent cinematic tragedy that passionately embodies the 'live fast, die young' maxim."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Drama for Students, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Advocate, February 3, 1998, Brendan Lemon, review of Gia, p. 51.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 3, 2001, Steve Murray, review of Original Sin, p. 7.
Back Stage, April 10, 1998, David Sheward, review of Amazing Grace, p. 40.
Film Journal International, September, 2001, David Noh, review of Original Sin, p. 65.
Hollywood Reporter, September 23, 2004, Chris Gardner, "'Fade' in on Jovovich for Cristofer Film," p. 1.
Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1998, Mimi Avins, review of Gia, p. E1; August 3, 2001, Ellen Baskin, "Director Regrets Taking Some of the Sex out of 'Sin,'" p. F14.
New Republic, December 10, 1984, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Falling in Love, p. 74; July 13, 1987, Stanley Kauffmann, review of The Witches of Eastwick, pp. 26-27; November 8, 1993, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Mr. Jones, p. 32.
New Statesman & Society, January 25, 1991, review of The Bonfire of the Vanities, pp. 29-30.
Newsweek, April 25, 1977, Jack Kroll, "Where Is Thy Sting?," p. 89.
New York, February 2, 1998, John Leonard, review of Gia, p. 57.
New Yorker, April 11, 1977, Brendan Gill, "Timor Mortis," p. 85.
New York Post, April 1, 1977, Martin Gottfried, review of The Shadow Box, p. 39.
New York Times, November 30, 1975, Stephen Faber, review of The Shadow Box; February 6, 1977, Walter Kerr, review of The Shadow Box; March 27, 1977, Richard Eder, "He Doesn't Merely Direct New Plays, He Nurtures Them," p. D4; April 1, 1977, Clive Barnes, "Final Taxi Ride," p. C3; April 10, 1977, Walter Kerr, "Sympathy Versus Artistic Control," section 2, p. 5; June 7, 1977, p. 31; September 7, 1997, Alanna Nash, review of Gia, p. H90; June 25, 1978, Leonard Gross, review of Black Angel, p. D9.
People, January 26, 1998, Terry Kelleher, review of Gia, p. 18.
Time, February 7, 1977, T.E. Kalem, "Life Is Terminal," p. 109.
Times (London, England), October 6, 2001, review of Original Sin, p. 4.
Variety, June 23, 1997, Ken Eisner, review of Breaking Up, p. 95; January 26, 1998, Ray Richmond, review of Gia, p. 37; March 30, 1998, Chris Jones, review of Amazing Grace, p. 172; July 30, 2001, Lisa Nesselson, review of Original Sin, p. 18.
Video Business, February 18, 2002, Samantha Clark, review of Original Sin, p. 14.
Wall Street Journal, April 4, 1977, Edwin Wilson, review of The Shadow Box, p. 290.
Women's Wear Daily, April 1, 1977, Christopher Sharp, review of The Shadow Box.