Have you ever seen or read a play in the Theater of the Absurd? It is, as its name implies, some serious weirdness. If you’ve ever waited for Godot, you know what I mean.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl reminded me of that movement. It’s pretty wonderfully peculiar.
…which the playbill took to another, more disturbing level.
The play opens with a woman sitting at a table in a cafe, a man slumped in his seat, sleeping, at another table. His phone rings and rings, and finally, when she cannot rouse him, she answers it. The woman, Jean, then discovers she couldn’t wake the man because he has died–silently, without her noticing.
She then makes the decision to keep and answer his cell phone, and to meet with his loved ones, telling everyone what has happened. And she lies–she lies with great frequency, painting beautiful, sentimental word-pictures of the time before the man, Gordon, died. Jean is only trying to make people feel better, but the enthusiasm with which she flings herself out into a story results in some hilarious and awkward moments.
And then, she begins to discover that the truth about this man (who she never even spoke to,) and romanticized, is nothing like she hoped.
The theater I saw it in was another local, small one. Even smaller than the others I’ve been to. I believe it seated about 50, and you were right there, next to the actors.
The tiny size didn’t hamper the actors, though the stage hands had to be careful moving some of the larger pieces in and out. And it made the audience able to be part of the play–in one scene, we were the people gathered for a church service, addressed by the actor speaking from the pulpit (that box to the far right).
The play was an interesting exploration of technology. It covered the complaint you often hear–that cell phones isolate us, making us focus on people who aren’t present, while the people who are with us are ignored. But it also discussed how it connects us, too. Brings us together, helps us reach out to people.
And I see both sides–there’s no need to check your phone every five minutes, or waste time looking at cat pictures when the people you care about are right there with you. But… phones make it possible to keep in touch with people it would be difficult to do so in any other way.
For a play that starts with a death, there’s rather a lot of funny moments. But if you can’t laugh about the end of life (eventually), I suppose your life will be full of sadness.