By LINDSEY BROWN
Cell phones are often an important aspect of people’s lives these days. They seem to be a lifeline to most, an essential for their social lives, or even their careers. Even though Sarah Ruhl’s play, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is over 10 years old, it is still relevant today. “You will never walk alone, because you have a machine in your pocket that might ring,” reads a line from the play, and it still rings true. “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is an unorthodox story, with good lessons that give the audience something to think about. It makes you want to turn your phone off for a while and join the land of the living.
The stage is set to a simple backdrop and a few tables and chairs. The scene begins with a woman and a man sitting in a café. The man’s back is to the audience, and his phone begins to ring. The man makes no attempt to answer the phone, as it continues to ring. The woman tries to get the man’s attention to no avail. After many attempts, the woman named Jean (played by Ashleigh DiBenedetto) checks his pulse, and discovers the man is dead. “How could you die so quietly?” she asks as she calls an ambulance.
The rest of the scenes spin by with ringtones playing incessantly, as the story unfolds and Jean tries to piece together the life of the man who died next to her in a café. The man, Gordon (played by Patrick Regal), came from a complicated family, leaving behind his mother, brother, wife(played by Lily Olson), mistress (played by Victoria Fortune) and a sketchy business. With eccentric characters put in a strange setting, this story is not a typical one.
Gordon’s mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (played by Marsha Kangas), is the most unlikeable character next to Gordon, although portrayed very well. While she was comic relief in many aspects of the show, her character is awkward. She is off-putting to the point that sometimes her jokes fall flat. Gordon’s character is jaded beyond measure. Even though this was the point for these characters, it put a damper on the story because it gives them very few redeeming qualities. The only characters that seemed to escape this were Gordon’s brother Dwight (played by Ian Aitcheson Nace), and Jean. Dwight tries to keep the peace in his family and is very likable. Jean, although a little strange in her sudden devotion to Gordon’s life, is a good person at heart.
Gordon’s cell phone takes Jean on an adventure that makes her not only learn about Gordon, but also herself. While her discoveries are good, the cell phone is ultimately a bad omen. Throughout the entire play, each time it rings it brings bad news or causes Jean to think less of Gordon. Much of Gordon’s identity was in the phone, and there was even less of him instilled within in his family. The play warns that while it was too late for Gordon, it is not too late for the audience to become aware that cell phones make poor lifelines.
The director Cate Brewer did a good job of portraying the message of the play, about how life and love is important, and how technology can be toxic in many ways. Her direction made unlikable characters likable by the end of the show.
The sets were simple with a backdrop enhanced with lights and different artistic furniture in every scene. There were many different settings, so the design crew did a good job of creating simple movable sets that provided character. Although it was hard for the entire audience to see, the stage floor had a beautiful cosmos painted on it.
Despite the fact that the characters were really strange, the acting was spot on. It was obvious each actor took the time to immerse themselves into the jaded characters they portrayed. They made their characters likable with their ability to portray them so well.
The show runs from February 17 to February 25 in Klein Theatre.