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Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Cyrano’s Theatre Company


Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Sarah Ruhl

Runs March 29 – April 21

Review by Robert Pond

Sarah Ruhl, poet turned playwright, came to fame largely through her hit play The Clean House.  Ms. Ruhl is a quirky voice for comedy, which establishes her playwriting efforts as the metaphysical frame to reality.  Her writing is an asteroid belt between the mundane and the bizarre.  Ruhl’s characters are cartoons bordering on finding hints of truth.  In a world of the digital madness that spills over us all, the wireless, the smarty phones, and notebook pads, Sarah Ruhl is the comedic scribe who says we don’t want to rise our eyes until we again find the need to communicate, one to one, with each other.

Dead man’s Cell Phone is a strange piece, more of a nonlinear theatre lab exercise than a conventional play.   Jean (Krista M. Schwarting) is at lunch trying to have her soup when a cell phone at the next table rings and rings and without mercy.  The phone is unanswered by Gordon Gottlieb (Joshua Lowman) who we find has died.  Jean takes over jurisdiction of the phone, trying at times to tame it.  Upon capturing the device, Jean then embarks on a journey into the murky world that includes Gordon’s certifiable family twisting and turning along the way – searching for reason.  There’s a funeral scene for poor Gordon using the candy coated Rodgers and Hammerstein’s religiose “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as a hymn, a not so subtle but meaningful bit of humor.   The warm and fuzzy part of all this is that somehow Gordon’s dependent personality brother, Dwight (also played by Lowman), finds love with our guide, Jean.

The production is painfully slow paced, though the laugh lines were mostly worth the waiting.  It was somewhat difficult to absorb the scene changes that were more interludes than any need to rearrange the stage.  Margaret Hugi-Lewis’ set was both simple and complicated in scope; the wall of paper sheets was gravitating. The set seemed to dwarf the actors, protectively.

Vicki Russell as Mrs. Gottlieb  is as commanding as she is entertaining.  A favorite moment among her many is when she officiates at her son’s funeral. Actress Martha Robinson is very convincing in her character changes with the three roles of Hermia, the Other Woman, and the Stranger.  Ms. Robinson’s grating characterizations managed to get under our skin.  Joshua Lowman gave the play very different treatments of his two roles, the bothers Gottlieb, Gordon and Dwight.

It was such a pleasant treat to witness Krista M. Schwarting’s performance as Jean, our tour guide for this complicated theatre piece.  We know Ms Schwarting to be an impressive director and an experienced actress, but her work as Jean in Dead Man’s Cell Phone is quite good – among her best.  Her timing layered with her performance rhythm as well as her constant look of concern gave the show its heart. We might suggest that the phone ringing in the play is a major character therein.  We are assuming that it was Todd Sherwood who operated the cell phone rings, which began as harmless amusements then to a point where the cell phone ringing was just evil.

Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone is not a new form of playwriting, but her work is part of the evolution of 21st century American theatre.  Dead Man’s Cell Phone will be one of your more interesting visits to Cyrano’s Theatre Company.








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