Can you hear me now?
Last night my fiancé and I saw Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte with our friends April and Kim. The play begins with Jean (played by Catherine Smith) sitting in a cafe, enjoying a bowl of lobster bisque soup.
Until the ringing starts.
At a table adjacent to her’s, a man who has recently died (Gordon, played by Christian Casper) doesn’t bother to answer his ringing cell phone. He’s dead. So of course he’s not going to answer. Jean answers the phone, and continues to answer his phone day after day. And this is where the play takes off.
Jean attends Gordon’s funeral, cell phone in tow (which constantly interrupts his eulogy). Here she meets his family. “How did you know Gordon?”, the family asks. Jean fumbles and says that she worked with him. However she has no idea what Gordon did for a living, or why he constantly receives so many business calls. Later we find out that Gordon dealt with the acquisition and selling of human organs, which leads Jean to try to rectify his life’s work by offering a lamp sculpted as a kidney to an organ dealer (played by Glynnis O’Donoghue) instead of cash. But the deal goes awry when Jean is shot, and she encounters Gordon in a death-like experience. Here she learns more about Gordon, and discovers that dead people can hear the frequencies of cell phone chatter.
Methodical stage hands appear in between scenes, but not under the cover of darkened stage lights. Instead, they pounce on-stage like soldiers, wearing trench coats and derby hats, carrying umbrellas. In unison they pick up chairs, remove props and arrange the setting for the next scene, bobbing along to music. These segments were done so artfully, it was almost like interpretive-dance-set-propping.
Gordon’s grieving mother, the comical Mrs. Gottlieb (played by Polly Adkins) reminded me of a character from Beetlejuice, Sylvia Sydney (“I’m Juno…your caseworker.”) The scene that had me rolling was when the audience heard a heaving/squeaking noise off-stage, which we found out was Mrs. Gottlieb crying. She keeps a tight leash on her goofy, but sentimental son Dwight (played by John C. Cunningham) and her alcoholic, widowed daughter-in-law Hermia (played by Allison Lamb).
Dwight and Jean find love with one another in the midst of their sadness, and eventually Mrs. Gottlieb finds peace by joining her dead son, who she considered her favorite.