Over the weekend, playwright Sarah Ruhl’s, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” was brought to life at Wittenberg’s New Student Theatre. Just picture it. You’re seated in the third row, the entire room is dark and all you can hear is the pre-show chattering of parents and college students. In the background of all that chatter, you can hear ‘50s inspired covers of songs like “Rude” and “My Heart Will Go On.” You’re certainly not sure what to expect once the lights turn on, but when they do, you silently sit and wait to be amazed by the art called theater.
In what I have come to define as an awkward and sexual conspiracy theory, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” opens with a single light on our main character Jean (Kristen Feigel, ‘19). She is sitting alone at a table covered in a white and red checkered table cloth, an empty soup bowl and an umbrella.
As Jean tries to enjoy her book, a phone begins to go off continuously. Another light turns on, revealing a man slumped over the phone machine that’s disturbing Jean. The ringing continues and the man makes no effort to answer, so Jean takes matters into her own hands and confronts him. Though it takes her a minute, she concludes the man is a dead man, literally. In a panic, Jean begins answering the numerous calls, including one from his mother, in which she learns the dead man’s name is Gordon (Morgan Beechey, ‘18).
Though it would probably seem weird and unnecessary to others, Jean attends Gordon’s funeral and listens to a eulogy, if you could call it that, given by Gordon’s outspoken mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (Brittany Shelton-Dooley, ‘20). During the funeral, Jean receives a call from a mysterious woman which causes Mrs. Gottlieb to go on a rant that would make any outburst by Kanye acceptable.
In the next scene, Jean meets the woman who confesses she was Gordon’s mistress (Samantha Reynolds, ‘20) and asks if Gordon said anything about her in his final hour. Jean, being the annoyingly kind-hearted woman she is, lies and says Gordon’s last words were declarations of love for his mistress. The rest of the play continues in this fashion. With every ring of the phone, Jean places herself in the middle of all Gordon’s troubles until it’s nearly too late to turn back.
Though I personally found the plot of this play confusing and creepy at times, the authentic nature of the actors made the play for me. Often times, I’ve found that the greatest actors of all time can ruin a play simply because we know they are acting. The lines are recited to perfection, their steps are calculated and elegant but it doesn’t feel like live theater—that isn’t the case with this performance.
When Dwight (Ben Strommen, ‘20) and Jean are alone in the stationery store holding different types of paper, there is this sense of awkwardness as they say sexual innuendos about the paper. At first it comes off as creepy, but you are then drawn to think of the times you tried to say something sexy and it ended up sounding like it came straight out of the pervert handbook on how to get laid. With each uncomfortable, sexual moment shared between these two, you could tell that the audience was growing to like this awkward duo.
Another plus in this play was Amanda Rogus’s, ‘17, portrayal of Hermia, Gordon’s ex-wife. My favorite scene in this play is when Jean goes to take a drunken Hermia home. She acts like everyone has when they’ve had a little too much to drink. She shares too much, she’s brutally honest and just all around funny. Nearly, if not all, of the audience was overcome by the need to laugh as she explained how turned on she was every time she role played being the mistress with her husband (unbeknownst to Gordon).
In terms of props, the director, Karina Kowalski, ‘19, used only what was necessary. Most of the play, the characters walked across a black back drop with furniture that was only there to convey setting. Even the costume choice was well thought out. Jean was dressed in a dull beige-gray outfit that communicated how simple she was. Mrs. Gottlieb wore outfits that were as fancy and wealthy as she was. All in all, Kowalski made due with what she had and it worked.
I think I speak for many of those who were fortunate enough to see this play when I say that this play will leave you with a “what did I just watch” feeling. If you’re expecting something like “Shakespeare” or “Rent,” then “Dean Man’s Cell Phone” is most likely not the play you’d like to add to your “Must See” list, but if you are interested in going on a wild trip filled with awkward sexual moments, conspiracy theories that center around cell phones and the airwaves, then go see this play if you ever get the chance. I can’t promise you won’t regret it, but I can promise you that you won’t forget it.