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 STAGEtheatre’s new play Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Unfortunately, the limited movement and depthless writing make 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 missing his cell phone. He’s dead. Being the sole person “with him when he died,” she attends his funeral and meets those closest to him. To comfort the colorful characters he left behind, she exaggerates his last moments on earth and continues to answer his cell phone 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 love. While rich in concept, the story is lacking in its execution.
I can think of several instances where the energy levels could be increased. Jean has to deal with multiple extreme moments that have the potential to be funny and are written to be funny but aren’t amusing 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 not intended to stem from her relaxed state of being. She 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 reasonable any conviction Jean shows seems out of place when it suddenly pops up.
There is not much physically happening in this show. It is primarily rooted in the dialogue. This is not entirely bad because many of the jokes are really funny. When the show tries to get too deep, we start having problems. Heaven helps us when it starts trying to be profound and funny simultaneously. There is just so much rambling and theorizing. It’s clear the intention is to make the audience think, but it just doesn’t seem very pleasant in the long run. 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 that symbolize…something I’m sure. The meandering plot and callous treatment of specific issues make the story less enjoyable.
Something working in the show’s favor is the sets. The background is beautiful and works so well. I am surprised people don’t utilize these backdrops more often.
March 13th – April 19th