By Dee Jae Cox
Playwright Sarah Ruhl is known for writing surreal fantasies that are filled with average people. She likes to blend the mundane with the metaphysical. Her Play, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, currently in production with Desert TheatreWorks, is a prime example of the writer’s ability to take the audience on a ride through a bizarre, life altering experience that starts with the simple act of answering a stranger’s phone.
Jean, beautifully and aptly portrayed by seasoned actress Daniela Ryan, alters the course of her life when she answers the incessantly ringing phone of a dead man who happened to experience the moment of his demise while sitting at a café table eating a bowl of soup.
Confiscating the phone, Jean is then taken on a journey through Gordon Gottlieb’s (Luke Rainey) life. Jean meets Gordon’s mother, a hardened soul who never expressed her love when her son was alive, but now is so grief stricken that she swears the pain of losing a child is like “Breathing in reverse.” Brilliantly performed by June August, who knows how to convey the many layers of a complicated character.
Rule’s objective seems to be to convey the dual ability of the cell phone to both unite and divide, but Jean’s intent to weave together the pieces of Gordon’s life and glue the fragments back together is what makes this piece so uniquely interesting and astute. The characters and the lines are comedic and yet profound in their discovery of themselves through their relationship with a dead man.
“I never had a cellphone, I didn’t want to be there, you know. Like if your phone is on you’re supposed to be there. Sometimes I like to disappear. But it’s like — when everyone has their cellphones on, no one is there. It’s like we’re all disappearing the more we’re there.” Jean’s complex reflection seems to be the crux of the story.
Mari Kerber as the ‘other woman’, was sexy and alluring and dangerous, Jennifer Asbenson as Hermia and Stephen Blackwell as Dwight, round out a very cohesive cast.
Lance Phillips-Martinez, does an incredible job of staging and unifying the scenes in this poetic piece of movement theatre. The umbrella’s and robotic dance movements of the ensemble are so uniquely creative and captivating. The lighting was ethereal, creating a celestial ambiance at times for this poetic piece. Ron Phillips- Martinez, set and costumes were simple and common which seemed to work for this metaphysical dramedy about life and love and the need for communication.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Dead Man’s Cell Phone, but I left thinking a multitude of complex thoughts. And that is always a good sign with theatre. This is definitely a thinking piece. I highly recommend this play. It has resonated in various ways. Not necessarily recommended for children, but most certainly worth a night out with family or friends.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a production of Desert Theatreworks, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, September 18th through 26th,, at the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center, located at 73750 Catalina Way, in Palm Desert.
For Reservations: call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.