Sarah Ruhl’s ‘Cell Phone Connection to Love, Death and Eternity’ at HSU - Humboldt State Now

Sarah Ruhl’s ‘Cell Phone Connection to Love, Death and Eternity’ at HSU

She doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass. Instead a young woman enters her self-made Wonderland by answering the cell phone of a strange man she soon realizes is dead. That’s the beginning of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” the imaginative comedy and surprising love story by famed American playwright Sarah Ruhl, which opens at HSU on Friday April 22 for two weekends.

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Jesse Benefiel (as Dwight), Stephanie Lemon (as Jean) and Madison Burgett-Feagin (as Hermia.)

She doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass. Instead, a young woman enters her self-made Wonderland by answering the cell phone of a strange man she soon realizes is dead. That’s the beginning of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” the imaginative comedy and surprising love story by famed American playwright Sarah Ruhl, which opens at HSU on Friday, April 22 for two weekends.

Jean is sipping soup in a cafe when the cell phone at a nearby table keeps ringing, but the man sitting there won’t answer it. Jean confronts him but when he doesn’t respond, she answers it herself. By this time she’s beginning to realize that the man is dead.
Answering that phone and looking into the dead man’s face begins a poignant, comic, open-hearted and eventually transcendent theatrical journey for Jean and everyone she meets as a result, including the dead man’s widow, his mother, his brother and his mistress.

But unlike Alice, Jean enters a Wonderland that she largely creates with her own continually surprising decisions.
“From the very beginning, this is a play of surprises. One surprise after another,” says director Michael Thomas. The characters’ behavior is sometimes so surprising that he believes the question audience members will be asking themselves is: “Would I do that?”
Among the surprises is an unlikely romance and lots of humor, some of it outrageous. “There are some very funny moments,” Thomas said.

Other directors and observers have described this play as a contemporary fairy tale, a theatrical dream and a fable of the digital age. Like the rest of Ruhl’s work, writes New York Times critic Charles Isherwood, this play “blends the mundane and the metaphysical, the blunt and the obscure, the patently bizarre and the bizarrely moving.”

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” received the 2008 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play in the Washington DC area. Two of Sarah Ruhl’s other plays were Pulitzer Prize finalists, including “In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play)”, which was produced by Ferndale Repertory in 2012.

The HSU production features an all-student cast, with Stephanie Lemon as Jean. The other actors are Anthony DePage, Connie Hill, Madison Burgett-Feagin, Jesse Benefiel and Caitlin Hatfield. Marissa Day is scenic designer, Isabella Cejas designed costumes, Camille Borrowdale the props, Delany McNeil the makeup, and Chris Joe the sound.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is performed Friday and Saturday April 22 and 23, and Thursday through Saturday April 28-30 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday May 1, in Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus. Tickets are $10 general/$8 students and seniors, with a limited number of free tickets for HSU students at each performance, from the HSU Ticket Office (826-3928) or at the door. More information: http://HSUStage.blogspot.com. Produced by HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance.