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BWW Review: Life Rings With The Alley Theatre's Delirious DEAD MAN'S CELLPHONE

This deliciously delirious production proudly combines surrealism and existentialism with knowing wit and gut-busting physical comedy.  Now running through May 8!

BWW Review: Life Rings With The Alley Theatre's Delirious DEAD MAN'S CELLPHONE

A jovial spirit permeates The Alley Theatre as people pack in for the opening night performance of Dead Man's Cell Phone, MacArthur Genius Sarah Ruhl's effervescent, acerbic and poignant play. Director Brandon Weinbrenner offers a talented cast of six actors staged in the circular thrust Hubbard Theatre, actors with a wealth of talent who bend, break, and bow selflessly with brevity to get every single laugh they can out of the audience. And boy, did we laugh! This deliciously delirious production proudly combines surrealism and existentialism with knowing wit and gut-busting physical comedy.


An incessantly ringing cell phone in a quiet café. A stranger at the next table has had enough. And a dead man. So begins Dead Man's Cell Phone, a wildly imaginative comedy about the odyssey of a woman forced to confront her own assumptions about morality, redemption, and the need to connect in a technologically obsessed world.

Elizabeth Bunch was a wealth of energy and zany neurosis as Jean. Her Jean is at times heartfelt and driven to make a positive change, other times an entitled thrill-seeker, desperate for a sense of thrill to shake up the monotony that is their lives. She serves as the everyman in the show, and it is through her that we experience many of the play's most powerful messages such as "when something rings, you have to answer it, don't you?"

BWW Review: Life Rings With The Alley Theatre's Delirious DEAD MAN'S CELLPHONE
DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE at The Alley Theatre.
Photography by Lynn Lane.

As Jean starts to get more engulfed in Gordon's life, she falls deeper for his brother Dwight, having found a friend with whom she feels a little less lonely. Christopher Salazar's hilariously endearing performance as Dwight, the other brother, blended perfectly with Bunch's quirky Jean. He does cute things like terribly braiding her hair or making paper gifts, she starts to answer the phone less and less. This supports the play's many messages about staying present and letting yourself free fall into making memories instead of focusing on being remembered. Chris Hutchinson shines as Gordon, the dead man we're all talking about. He delivers a monologue at the top of Act Two that shows exactly why Gordon led such a mysterious life. Melissa Pritchett wields both guns and cigarette holders with the same energy as The Other Woman.

Michelle Elaine as Gordon's wife Hermia, desperate for answers and validation from her mother-in-law, earned many laughs and brought fresh interpretation to the tried-and-true trope of the grieving wife. Todd Waite provided us with many of the laughs and the lewks for the evening, channeling Meryl Streep's icy Miranda Priestly in dyed furs and jewel-toned silk blouses, as Mrs. Gottlieb, the domineering wealthy matriarch who is not accustomed to being told no. Waite's towering size was made even bigger as he stormed across the stage in rage or feigned with grief. Waite, a longtime Alley member, is worth the price of admission alone.

BWW Review: Life Rings With The Alley Theatre's Delirious DEAD MAN'S CELLPHONE
DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE at The Alley Theatre.
Photography by Lynn Lane.

The designers work cohesively in order to best serve the wildly inventive settings and characters. Michael Locher's scenic design brings to mind the building blocks of our youth-a durable, blank canvas of a metropolitan skyline that helps our imagination place the story in any suburbia we know and love. The building blocks begin to light up and pulse with verve with Isabella Byrd's flawless lighting design as Jean finally adds a little color to her own life. At once, Byrd's use of

light brilliantly helps isolate the loneliness Jean feels or recreates a torrential downpour in a sea of pedestrian passersby. Matt Starritt's atmospheric sound design was site-specific-the titular cell phone did indeed ring, I think- and added cool elements to shift us to different moods. Tricia Barsamian's costumes evoke the colorful glamour of our favorite mystery novels while still being nondescript to evoke uniformity and mystery. Trench coats and sunglasses meet jumpsuits and blazers in a constant battle of tradition versus modernity. I loved learning more about their process through the evening's playbill.

Between the brisk running time, just under two hours, and the abundance of laughs and theatrical moments, Alley Theatre's production of Dead Man's Cell Phone is a surefire hit. Don't walk, run to see it before it closes and is only remembered in the air.

DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE runs at The Alley Theatre through May 8th. For tickets and more information, please visit alleytheatre.org.



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