Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Dead Man's Cell Phone
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Romeo and Juliet


Ann Beth Baker and Chris Hayhurst
Photo by Frank Atura
What if one of the major writers from the theater of the absurd movement, especially Ionesco, were writing plays today with a current sensibility? I think the answer is on display, as Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training presents Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone. How else to explain this oddity in which the plot makes little or no sense, forcing the audience to leave their sense of reality in the parking lot, yet is hugely entertaining?

A young woman sitting in a coffee shop, minding her own business, hears a cell phone ring at an adjoining table. The man sitting there doesn't answer it. It rings again and again until in utter frustration she goes over, picks it up and answers. Then she discovers the reason he hasn't answered, as the play's title describes. She is off on a series of madcap adventures with various members of the man's world.

The main theme is the importance of wireless technology in our current world and how we do or do not control it. As with the best plays from the theater of the absurd movement, there are additional themes which each layer of reality or non-reality explored.

With this company, the lack of age variety is often a hindrance. When the script says our heroine Jean is 39 or 40, that line might have been changed without major damage, because the actress playing her seems early 20s, maybe just a little older. Other characters, not so much as their positions in life, coupled with their actions seem to fix their ages as older than the actors playing them. Still, much of the acting is on a very high level.

Anna Beth Baker brings all the right qualities to the role of Jean: naivete, lack of social poise, coupled with a desire to please. Chris Hayhurst as Gordon, the dead man, really comes alive for a monologue that opens the second act. Jacob Sefcak as his brother Dwight is perfectly geeky. Jamie Saunders plays Hermia, Gordon's wife; and Kaitlyn Weickel is the other woman, both excellent. Bonita Jackson as Mrs. Gottlieb, Gordon's mother, almost manages to overcome the age issue. Brilliant make up design would have gotten her there.

Director Peter Amster has been a busy man lately, also responsible for the sensational Murder on the Orient Express for Asolo Repertory Theatre in the larger house. He is always at his best in comedy and, no matter how quirky, Dead Man's Cell Phone is rooted in comedy. All these young actors should consider themselves blessed to have the opportunity to work with such an excellent director.

Scenic design by Jeffrey Webber comprises a series of translucent panels, a few of which are on hinges and move, which deserve special attention, as they almost become a character in our adventure. Costume design by Sofia Gonzalez is effective, and lighting design by Chris McVicker adds shimmer to the absurdity.

Dead Man's Cell Phone is certainly an odd play, one that might not appeal to everyone, although because of a history with theater of the absurd, I love. It is certainly an acting challenge for young actors, therefore an excellent choice for Asolo Conservatory.

Dead Man's Cell Phone, presented by Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, runs through March 8 2020, at the Cook Theater, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, visit asolorep.org/conservatory/ or call the box office at 941-351-8000

Cast (in order of appearance):
Jean: Anna Beth Baker
Gordon: Chris Hayhurst
Mrs. Gottlieb: Bonita Jackson
Hermia: Jamie Saunders
Dwight
Jacob Sefcak
the other woman/the stranger: Kaitlyn Weickel


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