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Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Nov 6, 2009 - Nov 15, 2009
Dead Man’s Cell Phone
By Sarah Ruhl
Nov. 6-15, 2009
CENTRAL IOWA PREMIERE PRODUCTION
SPONSORED BY ILES FUNERAL HOMES
Another Off-Broadway hit by Sarah Ruhl, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (“The Clean House”)
“A probe of the razor-thin line between life and death delivers a fresh and humorous look at the times we live in.” Variety
A wildly imaginative and funny odyssey of a woman forced to confront her own assumptions about morality, redemption, and the need to connect in a technologically obsessed world. Satire is Sarah Ruhl’s oxygen – her play delivers a fresh and humorous look at the times we live in. The premise – an incessantly ringing cell phone in a quiet cafe. A dead man – with a lot of loose ends. A stranger at the next table who has had enough – so begins the journey. Originally presented at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” was seen in New York at Playwrights Horizon.
Jean – Kellie Kramer
Gordon – Todd Buchacker
Mrs. Gottlieb – Sue Gerver
Hermia – Amanda Julson
Dwight – Jeff Rohrick
The Other Woman – Ruthy Patch
Director – Stacy Brothers
Production Stage Manager – Emily Dokken
Scenic Designer – Brian Eagen
Lighting Designer – Eric Redmon
Costume Designer – Mell Ziegenfus
Properties Designer – Susan Mock
Sound Designer – Casey Gradischnig
Carpenter/Tech Director – Ron Borstad
DES MOINES REGISTER REVIEW
November 10, 2009
Don’t: Think too hard about “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” the bizarre satire that StageWest presents through Sunday at the Civic Center’s Stoner Theater in Des Moines.
Do: Go see it. Its nonsense will surprise you into laughter.
Directed by Stacy Brothers and sponsored, aptly enough, by Iles Funeral Homes, the show is a strange trip into a familiar world, a twisted look at the way technology has changed our everyday lives – and whatever comes after.
It starts out reasonably enough. A woman named Jean (Kellie Kramer) sits down to lunch in a restaurant where she notices, with increasing irritation, that a man at another table (Todd Buchacker) refuses to answer his cell phone. She eventually answers it herself before realizing that the man is not simply rude or asleep, but dead.
She calls 911 and, in an attempt to be helpful, continues to answer the man’s phone – without telling callers about the unfortunate turn of events.
“Uh, I’ll give him a message,” she says, her eyes darting nervously from side to side.
Then things get weird. Jean hangs on to the phone for reasons she can’t entirely explain and inadvertently entangles herself in the man’s (former) life, crossing paths with his eccentric, meat-eating mother (Sue Gerver), his emotionally distant ex-wife (Amanda Julson), his mysterious mistress (Ruthy Patch) and his dorky brother (Jeff Rohrick).
With each strange twist, the cell phone serves as a symbol, a tool to bring the characters together and to drive them apart.
The playwright, Sarah Ruhl, wrote the script in the early 2000s, and although her observations about technology aren’t as fresh as they might have been back then, they’re funny just the same. At the man’s funeral, his mother grouses about a cell-phone interruption during the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and finishes the musical phrase herself: “- because you’ll always have a machine in your pants that might ring.”
Later, Jean reenacts a cell-phone conversation she overheard at the drug store, correctly pointing out that if there’s any place where strangers don’t want to know about one another’s personal lives, it’s in line at the pharmacy counter.
As the program points out, Ruhl could just as easily have written “Dead Man’s Twitter Feed” or “Dead Man’s Facebook Profile.” The actual particular thingamajig is less important than the way it has changed our behavior.
“I never had a cell phone,” Jean says. “I didn’t want to be there, you know. If your phone is on you’re supposed to be there, and sometimes I like to disappear. But it’s like, when everyone has their cell phones on, no one is there. It’s like we’re all disappearing the more we’re there.”
Kramer makes a convincing Jean – quiet, ordinary, even a little mousy – and the supporting cast finds the right balance between sense and silliness, even as their conversation careens from one to the other. (The same pattern comes through in the spare set by Brian Eagen and surreal colored lighting by Eric Redmond.)
The show’s best performance belongs to Buchacker. As the title character, speaking from the afterlife, he manages to explain the details of eternity in a way that sounds almost plausible. (If you’re curious: We go to the afterworld with only the clothes on our back, so our souls are naked for the weekly trip to the laundromat.)
Overall, he says, death is like lentil soup: “It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but not as good either.”
Fortunately, the play rates a lot higher.