BWW Reviews: SET Connects with DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE
The ringtone is intrusive and aggressively upbeat, so synthesized that the tune (Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business") is nearly unrecognizable. The phone's owner perhaps thinks it identifies him as a self-made man, important but with simple tastes. The people around him are more likely to find it a nuisance.
Jean (Jenny Maloney) certainly does. The stranger's cell phone is a distraction from her book, an intrusion on her life. It's only because of the incessant ringing that she pays attention to him long enough to realize the man sitting across from her is dead. So begins Dead Man's Cell Phone, an examination of the way technology connects and isolates us, a tale of loneliness in crowds and the complexity of the people we never know.
Sarah Ruhl's play draws Jean and the audience into the death and life of Gordon (Warren Epstein), as Jean clings to Gordon's cell and comes to know his family: his imposing mother Mrs. Gottlieb (Sue Bachman), his distant wife Hermia (Jane Fromme), and his awkward brother Dwight (Karl Brevik). They paint for us a tragicomic picture of the dark secrets, little lies, and sweet poetry that make up our lives, asking how well we can truly know and love each other, especially when we can isolate ourselves with the touch of a button and the swipe of a thumb. But connection is the overall theme of Sarah S Shaver's direction, as she engages the audience on various (and frequently surprising) levels, making us full participants in Jean's saga.
The cast is one of the strongest ensembles I've seen in months, with Maloney giving a tender, moving performance that grounds the play. She gives Jean a natural empathy that makes her determination to bring closure to Gordon's life feel true and sincere, and exhibits excellent chemistry with Brevik's Dwight (an embodiment of what they had in mind when they coined the term "adorkable"). Ruhl's script gives each character a chance to shine: Bachman delivers a wonderfully grandiose eulogy to her son, and Fromme has a brilliant drunk scene where Hermia expounds on the mess of her married life while pounding back cosmos like a marathon session of Sex in the City. As Gordon, Epstein makes a convincing corpse, but more importantly presents a self-satisfied charm when the dead man gets the chance to tell his own story.
Fantastic, funny, and sad, SET's production of Dead Man's Cell Phone is a beautiful evening in what Mrs. Gottlieb calls one of the few sacred spaces remaining in the world. Don't forget to set your devices to vibrate.
DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE plays now through March 1st at Springs Ensemble Theatre, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sunday matinees February 22nd and March 1st at 4pm. For tickets, contact the box office at 719-357-3080 or visit www.springsensembletheatre.org.