Dead Man's Cell Phone
Also see Sarah's reviews of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You and The Eight: Reindeer Monologues and Bob's review of A Christmas Story
Mr. Cheneyor rather, Mr. Sheadoesn't really make his "evil" presence known till act two. Till then, the same actor is mostly busy on stage as his timid, nebbishy brother Dwight. That performance, opposite leading lady Elana Kepner, is entirely separate and distinct from the other and, thanks to both him and Ms. Kepner, their on-stage romance is perfectly touching. Mr. Shea's unexpected, fast changes between Dwight and his snarling brother Gordon in act two also add a layer of excitement to the story.
Not that it needs it. The lovable, Ms. Kepner earnest Jean follows a series of voice mails through Gordon's life, via his cell phone, introducing us to his weird, uneasy family. Judith MacDonald freshens up the standard Lady Bracknell act, as his mother, with a funny eulogy for her late son, in which she segues into a diatribe against the Blackberry and the iPhone and their ilk; and Jamie Pitt seems unstoppably comical as his widow (even when she's not gliding by in chiffon and roller-skates). Julia Mager is sweller than swell as his unbearably haughty mistress, and later as a hilarious Natasha Fatale-type during a black-market exchange that lands us squarely in a despairing netherworld. There's plenty of pretty talk about metaphysics and the ghosts of cell phone messages drifting forever in the ether, but director Shane P. Mullen never gets bogged down in those, keeping the pace tight and the action mostly natural, and leaving the metaphysics to his highly qualified cast.
Mr. Mullen's light touch also allows the actors to swagger delightfully and play with a bizarre air of mystery till the skullduggery sets in, in act two. Equal to all of the intrigue is the tenderness supplied by Ms. Kepner, leading to a harvest of shock and dread when a deadly scuffle erupts in a faraway airport terminal. Overall, the resounding clash between her character's goodness and Mr. Shea's remorseless evil adds a lot of flash to Ms. Ruhl's dialog, and the entire cast floats along, balancing misguided affection with the steady background hum of suspense.
Dead Man's Cell Phone, through December 19th, 2009. Tickets should be plentiful in the lovely, spacious Ivory Theatre (7622 Ivory/Michigan, St. Louis 63111, east of I-55 between the Loughborough and Gasconade exits), but for more information you can call (314) 631-8330 or visit ivorytheatre.com.
Photo by Jenny Krethmar