Yale Dramatic Association’s annual Freshman Show provides an opportunity for talented theatrical younguns’ to experiment and collaborate on their very own production. And what better thing to bond over than death?

After all, as Brian tells us in his opening interview with the disembodied voice of a medical professional, it is going to happen to all of us sometime. The only difference for the characters in “The Shadow Box” is that they are all too aware it is going to happen, and soon.

Set in a California hospice, the play follows the stories of three terminally ill patients and their loved ones as they confront, avoid and argue about their encroaching expiration dates. The script, which won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1977, provides a masterful template for director Gabriel Seidman ’11 to fill with effective visuals and the talents of his cast and crew.

A disclaimer: This is a death play. Death plays, even award-winning, beautifully blocked, sometimes expertly acted death plays, are especially hard on young actors and young audiences. The show feels much less genuine if you are thinking about the afterparty, how that actor you hosted during Bulldog Days last spring threw up on your couch or anything else that reveals your youthful vigor. The actors have to struggle to transcend their own age and become complex, mature characters grappling with the end, and sometimes the performances seem forced.

Still, a little contemplation of our own mortalities probably does us obsessive Yalies a lot of good. The show deserves kudos for its ambitious attempt to challenge its actors and audience, elevating it to a more relevant, thought-provoking form of art and entertainment. But be warned: If you want optimistic, smelly freshmen-bonding, skip the show and become a FOOT leader.

“The Shadow Box” is an ensemble piece, relying on the strengths and coordination of all nine actors to achieve its emotional impact. While each patient’s storyline remains separate from one another, the characters’ responses and experiences echo each other and are interwoven in dialogue, theme and physical action. The device of overlapping these vignettes is confusing for the audience initially, but quickly becomes an effective method of showing the multidimensional interactions of different people struggling with death.

This fusion effect is most beautifully executed in the visual aspects of the show. Set designer Ric Hernandez ’11 has transformed the impossibly-dimensioned Yale Rep stage into a space that simultaneously separates the three stories and allows for interaction between them, highlighting the actors and focusing the audience.

Seidman’s blocking expertly plays off the set and script. The show begins with a single character spotlighted on an empty stage and subtly builds to a finale with the company standing together in solidarity. Increasingly colorful lighting and original music by composers Micah Hendler ’11 and Andrew Maillet ’11 further contributes to the aural and visual feast.

Certain individuals stand out for their prodigious acting talent. Dramat veterans Matthew George ’11 and Matthew McCollum ’11 deliver expert performances as men grappling with terminal illness and complex relationships. Sara Mich ’11 deftly tackles the challenge of playing an elderly woman, delivering a convincing and heart-wrenching performance as a cranky, tragic old mother hanging on to life because of the mistaken belief that her favorite daughter is still alive. The early scenes between Miles Jacoby ’11 as McCollum’s gay “friend” and Eve Binder ’11 as a boozy “former wife” provide comic relief from an otherwise somber show.

While the show sometimes hits rough spots, the final product is thought-provoking and entertaining, an exciting preview of theater to come from the class of 2011.