DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE

DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE

Reviewed by Jeff Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

For those of us who feel a sense of dread, panic or acute separation anxiety when we have misplaced our cell phone, DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE is a clarion wake-up call.

The cell phone was meant to serve mankind: not serve as its ball and chain.

Ironic too, that a communication device should ultimately increase our alienation rather than mitigate it.

As Tyler Durden warns us in FIGHT CLUB, "The things you own, end up owning you."

Although FIGHT CLUB predates the proliferation of cell phones, the warning was as prophetically accurate.

Jean (played by Amy Resnick) is trying to concentrate on her soup and novel in a non-descript, seemingly abandoned, café.

Another customer sits motionless as his cell phone continues to obstreperously clamor for attention.

Jean, for better or for worse, realizing its unresponsive owner has died long before his cell phone batteries did, picks up the orphaned phone and responds to a caller.

Like getting hit by a STAR TREK tractor beam, Jean is tugged into the convoluted vortex of Gordon's dysfunctional world.

As long as Jean is there to answer his cell phone, it seems that Gordon will never entirely expire.

Jean aids and abets this intimation of immortality by never explicitly telling Gordon's callers that he is in fact dead: she buffers them from the truth stating that he cannot come to the phone and that she will take a message for him.

The cell phone drags Jean, who apparently hitherto had no life, into contact with Gordon's mother: the frosty, remote high-brow: MRS Gottlieb.

Jean begins spinning yarns about how much Gordon, a total stranger to her, loved his family.

Writer Sarah Ruhl of VIBRATOR fame, seems to tread lightly on the same theatrical turf as Edward Albee: surreal characters that speak urgent trivial nonsense to each other across broad chasms of familial isolation.

But while Albee is disturbing, Ruhl, at least as performed by the San Francisco Playhouse under the directorship of Susi Damilano, is both funny and enlightening.

Award winning talent rescues this play from nether regions of the kooky, the whimsical, the quirky and quasi-campy.

Joan Mankin who was a virtual Klieg light in California Shakespeare's UNCLE VANYA, turns a petty snob: MRS Gottlieb, into a grand dame; and Bill English, who plays the deceased Gordon, does indeed reach the core of his character—maybe not in the café, but certainly later in the eternal empyrean where cell phone batteries never have to be recharged.

If your life is enmeshed in technology like a mastodon trudging through the La Brae Tar Pits, then this play could serve to excise you, make you laugh, or both.

For tickets embrace technology to surf on over to www.sfplayhouse.org or pick up a cell phone—definitely not a dead man's—and call 415-677-9596.