March 22, 2020
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‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ explores how people do and don’t make connections in digital age

Courtesy of Midcoast Actors' Studio
Courtesy of Midcoast Actors' Studio
"Dead Man's Cell Phone" produced by Midcoast Actors' Studio

You are sitting in a cafe minding your own business when the cell phone of the man at the next table rings incessantly. Despite your pleas, he doesn’t answer it because he’s dead as a doornail.

What do you do, dear?

Well, if you are Jean, the lead character in Sarah Ruhl’s play “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” you answer it. Then, you insert yourself into his family only to discover he’s not the nice guy you imagined him to be.

Midcoast Actors Studio’s production of Ruhl’s 2008 musing on the trouble humans are having making real connections in the digital age is funny and thought provoking. The intimate space in the small theater, which seats about 70 people, at the Crosby Center in Belfast is perfect for the show and lets the audience feel like it’s eavesdropping on neighbors.

Cell phone technology has changed enormously since Ruhl, who is best known for her update of the Greek tragedy “Euridyce,” wrote “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” The fact that Jean can access Gordon’s phone to answer it is surprising in 2020 when most require fingerprint identification.

Structurally, Ruhl’s two-act play is unusual because the Second Act is much stronger than the first. Dead man Gordon’s sudden presence on stage kick starts the action that tends to languish in Act One.

Director Tyler Johnstone cast the play well and keeps his actors moving on the small stage decorated with a few tables, chairs and props. He wrings all the absurdity and irony from the script while not losing Ruhl’s fleeting moments of sentimentality.

April Rejman gives Jean a journalist’s curiosity and detective’s determination at getting answers. She also wears the character’s naivety like a warm sweater. It comforts Jean until she discovers the true nature of Gordon’s business venture.

The rest of the cast, Dakota Wing, Katie Glessner, Andrea Itkin, Anne Howell and Erik Perkins give equally genuine performances but Glessner and Perkins stand out as Hermia and Gordon, respectively.

As Gordon’s pathetic widow, Glessner captures all of the absurdity and irony Ruhl weaves into the dialogue and on top of that, she’s hysterical in the role.

Perkins’ Gordon is delightfully charming and swarmy. The Second Act shines, in part, because of his layered performance of a character without much depth.

While technically “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is relatively simple, it’s sound design by Dominic Williams’ is intriguingly complex and enhances the production’s impact on the audience.

With this production, Midcoast Actors’ Studio proves it is as adept at the quirky less well known productions as it is at the classics like “The Crucible” and the musical “Cabaret.

Midcoast Actors’ Studio’s production of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” runs through Sunday at the Crosby Center, 96 Church St., Belfast. For more information, call 207-370-7592 or visit midcoastactors.org.


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