Dead Man's Cell Phone

Jean is sitting in a cafe enjoying a lobster bisque when a phone nearby starts to rings. When the owner of the phone doesn’t answer, she goes over to him and discovers he is dead. Feeling somehow responsible for him, she becomes the custodian of his phone which leads her to get to know his family: his brash New Yorker mother, his less charismatic brother Dwight, his wife, and his “bit on the side”.

Her beautiful operatic singing voice in this scene is (...) just one of many small moments of delight to be found in the piece

Being the last person with someone as they die comes with responsibility and Jean tries to use her power for good. She tells white lies to the family of the recently departed man (Gordon) to make each of them feel better about their relationship with him. But as things progress, we learn that Gordon was not a nice person and Jean finds herself too deeply involved in his former life, including his business dealings.

In case it isn’t yet clear, this piece has an absurdist bent. Many of the people in Gordon’s life are far from normal and Jean does not respond to the situation as most normal people would either. First appearing in the requiem scene - over the top in velvet and furs - she is not a naturalistic character and verges on stereotypical. Her beautiful operatic singing voice in this scene is a lovely surprise and just one of many small moments of delight to be found in the piece.

The use of placards announcing scenes is charming as is the live music. I enjoyed the use of umbrellas to create a busy city street and the mobile of candle-lit paper houses that’s used to indicate Dwight’s stationery store. However, many set changes need smoothing out and could be better integrated with the performance.

The lighting in this show - a combination of the positioning and blocking of the lamps - is harsh and at times results in shadows that obscure the actors’ faces. This makes it feel as though the production isn’t directed for the space in which it is being presented.

This whimsical tragi-comedy by Sarah Ruhl is a favourite of mine and the production by UCLU Runaground was well-received. While the performances are all good and there are moments of gentle humour and tenderness, some of the production values are lacking.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Dead Man's Cell Phone: Jean is annoyed. The man next to her won't answer his phone. She confronts him, only to discover that he's dead. As Jean becomes fully immersed in the life the dead man left behind, she is forced to confront her assumptions about morality, redemption, and, well… phones. UCLU Runaground reimagines Sarah Ruhl's dark comedy, combining the boldly bizarre with the bizarrely moving. Experience this poetic, Edward Hopper-tinted fantasy that explores the isolating effects of our technologically obsessed world. 'Nothing short of perfect' ***** (EdFringeReview.com). 'Utterly sublime from start to finish' ***** (FringeGuru.com).