Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 9, 2009

Dead Man's Cell Phone

TheatreWorks, Hartford CT
Through March 15, 2009
By Jarice Hanson

In Sarah Ruhl’s comedy, "Dead Man’s Cell Phone," the audience enters a world of feelings and emotion by eavesdropping on cell phone messages. Two people are in a café, where a woman is annoyed by the constantly ringing cell phone of the man at the other table. When she grabs the cell phone to answer it, she realizes he is dead.To protect his dignity, she lies to a series of callers, leading her to ultimately meet and confront Gordon Gottlieb’s overbearing mother, miserable wife, ineffective brother, and exotic mistress.

The protagonist, Jean, is played by Finnerty Steeves, an appealing actress who can communicate much by just raising an eyebrow. We meet her in the stark café, wearing a frumpy gray and black outfit that matches her life, before she is catapulted into Gordon’s life, illustrated on stage by colorful backlighting and an annoyingly effective sound design that assaults the senses the way an incessantly ringing cell phone does. As a result of the world she finds herself in after taking Gordon’s phone, Jean begins to expand her senses (and those of the audience) beyond what she hears on the cell phone to touch, taste, and sight. Each of the other characters, also fully realized and expertly directed by Rob Ruggiero, find what they need in life, through Jean’s interpretation of Gordon’s wishes.

In addition to Steeves’ portrayal of Jean, Craig Wroe as Gordon, stands out in this ensemble piece, for his expository monolog from another dimension—letting those seated in the theatre in on the real Gordon. With a touch of absurdity in the second act, carried through by the audience’s immediate cell phone use after the show, the play ends with an appreciation and marvel at Ruhl’s comic absurdity of contemporary life.