DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE is Sarah Ruhl as one would expect: unusual characters, quirkiness, and humans connecting in spite of themselves. Director Aaron Gould has assembled a talented cast that interacts well with each other, and are strong enough as individual players to hold their own during the numerous monologues.
I don’t think this counts as a spoiler given the name of the play – Gordon (Eric Rupp) kicks off Act I by casually dying while lunching in a café. The back of his head gives a solid performance. Fellow café patron Jean (Caitlin Monahan) cannot resist answering his ringing phone and forms a posthumous attachment to Gordon. Monahan’s Jean is awkward and appealing as she draws us further in to Gordon’s tangled life. The first family member we meet, Mrs. Gottlieb (Lauren Rozensky Flanagan) commands the stage as she grieves, and criticizes, and rails against cell phones, among other things. Not an easy role to play as it feels like Mrs. Gottlieb is both opinionated and unsure about how she feels about anything. One of those indeterminate things is her son Dwight (Jeff Hunsicker). For his part, we can see Hunsicker developing a purpose and growing Dwight’s spine as he figures out what he wants and acts on it. Jean is surprised to learn more about her new “family” and how much they did, and didn’t care about Gordon. Mistress/Business Associate Carlotta (Laura Watson) seems to care about the deceased, sort of. Watson manages to convey that there is a lot going on under the surface that she isn’t sharing. Wife Hermia (Carly Crowley) is the opposite, spelling out everything she is thinking to an astonished Jean. Despite her blunt words, Crowley shows glimmers of the hurt she is hiding. Jean weaves herself further and further into the lives of those around her by both pretending she knows more than she does, and making up things to fill the gaps.
Act II also begins with Gordon, back from the dead to trace the path that led him to the café that day. Eclipsing the performance by his pate in Act I, Eric Rupp shows us a fully realized Gordon. Until he is able to speak for himself, we have only a sketchy idea of who he is. Rupp presents a Gordon who is selfish, focused, needy, uncaring, yet in search of kindness. He is a many faceted individual. The unanswered cell phone that is the catalyst for the action remains at the heart of the play. As an agent of communication it is both a bridge and a barrier, and as much subject to interpretation as the people who employ it. Like Jean, the playwright creates a situation with a lot of empty space between what is said and what is left to the imagination.
The only thing that struck a bit of a false note was the projection of explanatory titles like “Café” and “Dive Bar”. The sets and action suggested the locations. The titles seemed, to me, to work against the unexplained, open nature of play. On the flip side, the Mysterious Musician (Walt Blauvelt, Carmon Duran) was perfect. No explanation for the appearances, and no awareness by the characters that there was a saxophonist in the room – nice.
DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE is funny and weird and more complicated than it first appears. It also runs for two more weekends so you can do see for yourself. Final performance date is March 12th. Forge Theater 241 First Avenue, Phoenixville, PA (610) 935-1920.
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