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