Dead Man's Cell Phone Is a Comedy With Many Questions, Like 'Should I Get That?'

Jenna Anderson stars as Jean.
Jenna Anderson stars as Jean. courtesy Theatre Arlington

A constantly ringing cellphone is not really unusual. Unless it belongs to a dead man.

And when the dead man is involved in an overseas bodily organ trade, has a wife, a mistress – and is also in love with you – the tangled mess grows even more bizarre.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone, which runs through Feb. 3 at Theatre Arlington, starts off in a run-of-the-mill diner where Jean, who has just finished her lobster bisque, becomes annoyed by a ringing cellphone at the next table. When she discovers the man (Gordon) can’t answer the phone because he died, she answers it for him and soon finds herself spinning well-meaning webs of deception.

“I’m having a hard time understanding the motivation of the character,” says Jane Oosterhuis, who was watching the show with a friend. “Is she lying to them to try to make them feel better?”

That observation seemed to hold ground throughout the comedy, which is directed by Sharon Kaye Miller.

During the show’s first half, things might seem to lull unless people remind themselves that somebody just died. But once past the funeral scenes, tearful confessions and music that sounds like a swanky mix of elevator tunes and the theme song from Pink Panther, things finally pick up.

In one scene, Gordon’s mother (played by Lindsay Hayward), barges onto the stage and bemoans the fact that people used to only wear black at funerals but are now continuously darkly clad.

“We’re in a perpetual state of mourning,” she says as I watch from row F wearing black pants and charcoal-gray top.

Ms. Gottlieb (Gordon’s mother) has a flamboyant personality accented by her oversized sunglasses and gaudy furs, one with tiny, dangling feet still intact.

Things continue to come alive as Jean learns how to enter a room dramatically and apply lipstick with a seductive flair, Gordon’s wife airs her sexual fantasies and a girl fight breaks out. There’s even an unexpected, smoldering kiss between Jean and the dead man's brother, Dwight (Gordon and Dwight are both played by Brendan McMahon).

But the action is tempered with talk of where a spirit goes after a person’s death. If it’s with who loved the deceased the most, then Gordon seems a bit challenged in determining who that person might be exactly.

Following the performance, Oosterhuis says her biggest challenge was relating to the show’s characters.

“Are there really people out there that think like that?" she says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was interesting. It makes you think.”

At any rate, “it’s better than watching a rerun on TV,” says her friend.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone, by Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl, is suitable for ages 16 and up.
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