The Shadow Box, TinFish Theatre. Michael Cristofer’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play–portraying three families coping with loved ones’ impending deaths–is a cakewalk in that it gives an ensemble a generous base of story, character, and motivation. Its challenge lies in its raw honesty: especially in an intimate setting, any hint of falsehood will pervade the air like cheap cologne.

While this production isn’t completely awash in Jean Nate, some actors never successfully modulate their performances for the tiny space. Crisp, booming characterizations that would have sailed through a large auditorium come across as overblown types, like regular guy Joe (Reid Ostrow-ski) and erudite middle-aged man Brian (Vince Lonergan). Others take too long to settle into their roles. Jude Day, decked out in tiara and bejeweled chiffon as Brian’s ex-wife Beverly, spends a good hour giggling and swooning like a freaked-out fairy godmother before evolving into something human. Jeanne Scurek as Joe’s wife Maggie falters throughout the first act, putting odd pauses in the middle of sentences, but delivers a heartrending second-act climax. Consistently authentic are Kimberley Inouye as the aging Felicity–remarkable since Inouye is clearly decades younger than her character–and Sierra Cleveland as her put-upon daughter.

Despite this jagged unevenness, the play draws to a touching close. Either Cristofer’s words transcend imperfect interpretation, or this cast has the raw material to deliver the goods–though director Jon Frazier is miles away from refining it.