Arts & Culture
The Playhouse’s ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ Multitasks Like a Smartphone
Published: May 21, 2014
To compete with a cell phone whose irritating ring interrupts key scenes, director Andrew Thornton, who has himself graced the stage of the Cellar Theater with leading roles in Red and Wittenberg, found a capable cast to answer the call. As Gordon, Matthew Byron Cassi is a competent corpse, but he also delivers a robust monologue to start the second act. As his mother, Harriet, Kathleen Couser is elegant, imperious and determined “to mourn him until the day I die.” Meredith Bell Alvarez plays Gordon’s bitter, resentful widow Hermia, and Marisa Varela, his sexy, vain mistress, is convincing when she advises frumpy Jean: “A beautiful woman should walk into a room thinking, ‘I am beautiful, and I know how to walk.’” As Gordon’s younger brother Dwight, E.J. Roberts is a soulful wimp.
“You’re very comforting,” Harriet Gottlieb tells Jean, the bearer of her son’s cell phone, “like a small casserole.” Hermia calls her “a strange duck.” Sharing the stage throughout with a dead man’s active phone, Sarah Fisch’s Jean is unassuming and gauche (Fisch is a frequent contributor to the Current and a former arts and culture editor here). She appalls her hostess by hiccuping at a formal family dinner. Though she declares herself a vegetarian (and Dwight obliges by serving her caramel popcorn as an entree), she later craves a ribeye steak. The romance that suddenly blossoms between her and Dwight seems less a natural development in the plot than the playwright’s fanciful diktat. The awkwardness of Fisch’s Jean is consistent with the discomfort all the self-absorbed characters exhibit in speaking to one another, but also with the way varied parts of the play fail to gel.
A kind of pseudo-Sartrean vision of Hell might better belong in another play. As everything converges to culminate in a sappy demonstration of how love conquers all, the cell phone at last goes silent. We might have benefited from another interruption.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone
8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm & 8pm Sun
The Playhouse–Cellar Theater
800 W Ashby
Through June 1