Monday, May 26, 2008

Dead Man's Cell Phone

Dead Man's Cell Phone
Steppenwolf Theatre

Sarah Ruhl delivers once again.

Jean is in a cafe sitting next to a man who refuses to answer his cell phone. Irked by the noise, Jean seizes the phone off the table and answers it and takes a message for the man who appears to be sleeping. When she attempts to wake him to deliver the message, she finds that he is in fact dead. After she calls the paramedics, she decides to keep his cell phone. She feels that as long as there is someone to answer his phone, a part of him will always be alive.

It becomes her burden to reconcile the dead man with his still living relatives. She invents kind words that he did not say on his death bed to give comfort to those who have to carry on. At the same time, she becomes entangled in the underside of his business which leads Jean into some dangerous situations.

Set in the stark world of an Edward Hopper like painting, the simplistic design coupled with enchanting lighting creates a dream-like journey. Director Jessica Thebus guides us through the landscape as we discover how connected or unconnected to our lives we really are.

Polly Noonan once again takes on Ruhl's heroine (she has also played Tilly and Eurydice). Her honest and child-like delivery helps us to look objectively at the world we are being lead through without qualifications. Soon we see how easily we can be manipulated by those people who want to take something from us. We see how the lonely people will talk to us for hours if we are simply willing to listen. We also see how lonely it can be if we choose to let the world frighten us as we hide ourselves away.

Molly Regan is terrific as the dead man's mother. Eccentric and aloof, she is still able to wrench our hearts with the line "He was my son. I will mourn him every day for the rest of my life." Mary Beth Fisher returns to Ruhl's stage after her superb portrayal of Lane in Goodman's production of The Clean House, to play the dead man's widow. Her performance is perfect, as always.

While there are moments were you can become a little leery of a sermon on while cell phones are bad, Ruhl quickly sidesteps the dangers. The play, however, does ask important questions about who and how we truly reach out to the important people in our lives. Whether it be the person cursing at their cell phone at the grocery store or a couple falling in love for the first time, all of this has become a part of our lives. How do we make it count? How do we make sure we say what we truly feel before it is too late?

Happy Birthday: Al Jolson (1886-1950)

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