Your cell phone. You love it. You can’t live without it. But you have to admit, there are times you hate it, and hate what they’ve done to society. We may be more connected, but we’re more isolated than ever, all of us just staring down at our screens. Dead Man’s Cell Phone shows us some of the ups and downs of technology and how we’re connected – both with or without our phones.
Jean (Ellen Cribbs) is eating at a diner when Gordon’s (Evan Jones) cell phone begins to ring; he’s sitting beside her and it’s annoying her that he won’t answer it, so she does. She realizes after she’s taken a message for him, that he’s dead – and people keep calling his phone. After his body’s been taken away, Jean keeps the cell phone and connects with people in Gordon’s life – his mother Mrs. Gottlieb (Terri Storti), his brother Dwight (Alex Perone), his widow Hermia (Erica Buda-Doran) and his mistress (Meigg Jupin) – Jean feels a connection to Gordon, even though they never met or spoke, and wants to comfort the people in his life (and continue to answer his phone.) Things, however, start quickly spinning out of control.
Director Katie Weinberg had a difficult task with this production; the magical realism of the piece makes it hard to pin down, and as a whole, it’s not the most well-written show. What she did with it elevated the script, to be honest, and I give her so much credit for that. She didn’t allow the characters to be one-dimensional or played for laughs, and there were two or three scenes that were genuinely emotional and touching.
The actors are well-cast and a talented group. Cribbs has the lion’s share of the work, and carries that weight handily; she has good comedic timing and is also able to bring true emotion to the scenes that need it, delivering a moving performance. Perone’s comedic timing is also spot-on, and he and Cribbs have the chemistry needed to make their scenes together shine. Buda-Doran was brittle and hilarious as Gordon’s widow, especially in her scene with Cribbs in the bar – having loved her work in SLOC’s “Into the Woods” I’m so pleased she’s equally talented in straight shows, and hope to see her onstage again soon.
Adam M. Coons’ set is spare and perfect for this show – just three revolving walls that can be used for the variety of scenes, mirroring the kind of lost-in-space feel that the show gives us. Barry Streifert’s sound design is also to be admired – his choice of music (songs about phones, calling people, etc.) is just eclectic enough to be perfect background accompaniment.
Although I wasn’t a fan of the show itself, there wasn’t anything I’d change about what Albany Civic did with it – the direction, acting and everything technical was top-notch. I’m willing to bet, had I seen it performed elsewhere, I’d have left unsatisfied, but the work put into this production smoothed out any other disappointment I had.
“Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” Albany Civic Theater; 235 Second Ave., Albany; through November 19; $18-$10; Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 462-1297; http://www.albanycivictheater.org/