Tune in every Friday to http://www.kuci.org/ or if you’re in the areas of Santa Ana, Irvine or Tustin turn your radio receiver to 88.9FM @ 4pm – 5pm for the AMB Theatre show in partnership with the Orange Curtain Review.
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
I recently saw a high school production of “Les Miserables” as a viewer. Brian Johnson did a beautiful job directing a large number of teenagers in a very well-known show, so I was eager to see his work with adult performers in Stages’ Theatre’s new play Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Unfortunately, the limited movement coupled with depthless writing makes for a somewhat disappointing play.
On the surface Dead Man’s Cell Phone sounds like a great idea, maybe even brilliant. While dining in a cafe on a rainy day, a woman named Jean notices a man named Gordon sitting at another table and ignoring his ringing cell phone. Upon further investigation, Jean finds out Gordon is not ignoring his phone. He’s dead. Being the sole person “with him when he died,” she attends his funeral and meets those closest to him. In an attempt to comfort the colorful characters he left behind, she makes some slight exaggerations in regards to his last moments on earth and continues to answer his cell phone in an effort to keep some part of his spirit alive. These actions lead her on a spiritual journey, which causes her to question what she believes about communication, the afterlife, and the very nature of love. While rich in concept, the story is lacking in its execution.
I can think of several instances where the energy levels could stand to be increased. Jean has to deal with multiple extreme moments that have the potential to be funny, are clearly written to be funny, but just aren’t funny enough because she is taking these crazed situations so darn well. Her character is not the type to remain calm in all instances, so the humor is clearly not intended to stem from her casual state of being. She just isn’t excited enough about the lunacy taking over her life. To the actress’s credit, her soft and sweet demeanor is believable, but it is so believable any conviction Jean shows seems out of place when it suddenly pops up.
There is not much physically happening in this show. It is mostly rooted in the dialogue. This is not entirely a bad thing because many of the jokes are actually really funny. It’s when the show tries to get too deep we start having problems. Heaven help us when it starts trying to be deep and funny at the same time. There is just so much rambling and theorizing. It’s clear the intention is to make the audience think, but in the long run it just seems annoying. There is talk about cell phones, communications with the dead, and an effort to portray the afterlife. There is an elaborate dance scene featuring umbrellas which symbolizes…something I’m sure. The meandering plot and callous treatment of certain issues makes the story less enjoyable.
Something working in show’s favor is the sets. The background is so beautiful and works so well, I am surprised people don’t utilize these backdrops more often.
March 13th – April 19th
Interview with Brian Johnson – Dead Man’s Cell Phone @ STAGEStheatre
March 13th – April 19th 2015
Written by Scott Keister
Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of John Hughes’ 1985 film, The Breakfast Club. I’m not of that teen-era, and I found it to be simplistic teen melodrama (possibly my least favorite genre) flat and one-dimensional characters built on stereotypes that “grow” only within the ninety minutes of the film. That being said, an adaptation of the film for stage has to stand on its own merits. It can’t rely on foreknowledge of the film. Five Knaves for Breakfast, running currently at StagesTheatre, relies far too heavily on love for the film to entrance its audience. Without that devotion, there is not much interest.
The idea was to create a version of the film as a Shakespearean mash-up of sorts
—The Breakfast Club written in faux Elizabethan verse —very faux. If Hero P. Carlisle’s script had set out to be either a parody of The Breakfast Club or Shakespeare it may have had more to offer. But aside from a few neat turns of Elizabethan phrase to echo actual snippets of dialog from the film, there is very little to chuckle at, and you’d have to be a fan of the film to recognize those. Even that strategy vanishes after the first fifteen minutes or so as the play sinks into a very direct recreation of the movie —albeit set in Florence, Italy during the Middle Ages. One wonders if the teens of that era would really be as concerned with the troubles that so worried the modern day teens of the film. Considering life expectancy in Elizabethan times was around 50 and there were small things like the plague and war to worry about, you’d think being unpopular or being bullied would be minor quibbles. But no. Apparently teenage dilemma has never changed.
I have a hard time figuring out what this production was aiming for. The story itself is so well-worn, merely changing the era does nothing but muddy it. The performances, for the most part, do little to bring any depth to the characters:
F ive teenagers of disparate stations in life are thrown together for one day as a punishment for some infractions they have committed. The idea is they eventually open up to each other, resolve their differences and learn people are not really so different. Whatever. Cameron Moore as the teenage rebel, Jon (Judd Nelson from the original) is the lone standout —electric, jaunty and bold. The others have one or two nice moments, but overall they fall victim to the flatness of the concept. Jill Johnson directs with energy, but is handcuffed by the stale material.
Shakespeare himself wrote his own treatise on teenage turmoil—agitation with parents, rebellion against authority, trouble with the law, the pain of love—and it was fairly successful. It’s called Romeo and Juliet. Check it out some time.
Five Knaves for Breakfast runs Saturdays and Sundays at 5 pm through February 21. http://www.stagesoc.org/