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Confusing Cell Phone still brings the laughs
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Confusing Cell Phone still brings the laughs

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Dead Man's Cell Phone
ArtsWest
Through October 3


Say that you're sitting at a café and someone's cell phone rings and he just won't answer it. And it rings again. And again. And again. And you start asking him to please answer it. And he ignores you. So, finally, you get up to go get the phone and push the guy who won't answer and he falls over, since he's dead. This is the premise of the Sarah Ruhl play at ArtsWest, Dead Man's Cell Phone.

Jean (Emily Grogan) answers the dead man's phone and decides that she has been picked somehow to be its recipient. She believes she has fallen in love with him. She begins to tell those who answer that the dead man, Gordon (Mike Dooly), gave the phone to her and that he wanted her to have it. She begins to tell people of Gordon's death, and finds herself making up Gordon's last words about his lover (Kate Witt), his last words about his mother (Julie Jamieson), his last words about his brother, Dwight (Tim Gouran), and his last words about his wife, Hermia (Peggy Gannon). She finds a way to tell each one a lie that makes him or her feel better.

Jean does not appear to have qualms about telling these lies. She seems to enjoy herself and her power. Of course, the first lie is that Gordon gave her the cell phone, since he was dead at the time. After meeting Dwight and the rest of the family at the funeral, Jean falls in love with Dwight instead of Gordon.

It sounds strangely congruent and straightforward up until now, but it takes a wild left turn in the second act where Ruhl gives a long monologue to the dead man and sends Jean to meet him in the halfway area that they end up in when they are dead. The play seems to be about who loves you, truly. However, it doesn't satisfy its own concept very well. By the end, we have found out why Gordon was staring at Jean just before he died. That doesn't mean that Ruhl wraps it up very well.

However, whatever qualms you might have with the story, the production, directed by Carol Roscoe, is first-rate. The actors are uniformly on their game. Dooly should get an award just for sitting and being dead for such a long time at the beginning of the play! Grogan is a lovely Jean, though it would have been nice to see even a little bit of remorse over lying at first, wouldn't it? Jamieson and Gannon are hysterical as mother and stepdaughter, and milk the absurdity for all it's worth. Gouran and Grogan make a very nice couple, and as they find out more about each other, they create a real test for love. Witt is more of an ensemble player, but she definitely has some great moments as Gordon's mistress.

Ruhl's play may be strange, but there are a lot of laughs on your way to confusion. The technical support is good, as well, with a versatile and interesting, though plain, set by Dan Schuy, sound by Robertson Witmer, lights by Josh Randall and costumes by Mandy Muller. It's certainly a modern concept that has not yet been explored nearly enough, so kudos to Ruhl for playing with cell phones.

For more information, go to artswest.org or call 206-938-0339.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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