When she sees a stranger die in a café, Jean hardly thinks before answering his ringing phone. This surreal fantasy starts off with the main character telling a few white lies because she has imagined a connection with the dead man, but the longer she keeps answering his phone, the more she gets involved in what used to be his life. When she becomes practically part of his family, the lies escalate as she grows increasingly desperate to make the dead man into what she wants him to be.
Sarah Ruhl's 2007 play explores how we relate to each other - how we are isolated and connected at the same time - as well as further exploring themes already present in her other works, such as the afterlife and people’s estrangement from religion.
This production is by the Red Chair Players, a high school company from Connecticut. Alyssa Hagerbrant, who plays Jean, carries the play with focused and convincing acting, but some of her fellow actors appear slightly self-conscious and are let down by poor technique. It is clear that the cast understand the text, but playing too much in profile or with poor enunciation means the audience loses out.
The main drawback of the production is the large number of unnecessary scene changes that take place in silence. Ruhl's script does call for a number of different settings, but it is also rich enough so that the audience could follow simply by listening to the dialogue. Rearranging the same furniture after every scene interrupts the flow of the play, and it comes across as the company not trusting their audience or their playwright.
'Dead Man's Cell Phone' has quickly become a widely performed play, and it is clear why as it is made up of pithy, beautiful dialogue in a modern myth that is both relevant and fascinating. While the staging and performances in this production could be better, it is still worth seeing, even if just for Ruhl's touching and poetic script.