By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
And with that, Jean wanders down the rabbit hole of Gordon's life. She meets his nearest and dearest, including an overbearing mother (Sylvia Luedtke, wearing a gray wig so shiny it looks like a steel helmet), unhappy wife Hermia (Emily Scott Banks), spaced-out brother Dwight (Dan Forsythe) and a mistress (Elizabeth Van Winkle-Haberkorn). All that's in the first act, which follows a believable, if meandering, path that seems to suggest we are all one ringy-dingy away from having our lives autopsied by strangers.
Everything goes surreally wonky in the second act as Jean discovers how Gordon made a living. Not a good guy. And he says as much in a 12-minute monologue delivered by the dead man.
Ruhl abandons all vestige of logic after that. Jean becomes party to a bizarre organ-swapping scheme that culminates in a fist-fight (badly choreographed) in a Johannesburg airport. Then she dies, comes back to life and is reunited with Dwight, who seduces her with embossed stationery. There is also ice dancing.
Dead Manís Cell Phone continues through June 14 at Stage West, Fort Worth. Call 817-784-9378.
Death: The Musical continues through June 27 at Pocket Sandwich Theatre. Call 214-821-1860.
Two hours of mordant, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo—"When everyone has their cell phones on, no one is there," Jean muses. "It's like we're all disappearing the more we're there"—Dead Man's Cell Phone is not nearly as well-crafted as Ruhl's previous dark comedy about facing death, The Clean House, which Stage West produced last season. This newer one never shakes off the tone of an extended eulogy. Director Jim Covault doesn't help by pacing the show so lethargically a nap not only provides an escape from the dull hum of the play, it's inevitable. The audience should get a wake-up call when it's time to go home.