It was a fitting end to this year’s productions by Theatre Fairfield as Dead Man’s Cell Phone contained all of the drama, mystery, and laughs that a high quality play possesses. Written by award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a comedy about the prevalent role that technology now plays in our lives. Performances took place on April 12-17 in the PepsiCo Theatre.
In the first scene of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, the audience witnesses a middle-aged woman named Jean, played by Casey Grambo ’12, answer a man’s cell phone at a café. After numerous attempts at trying to get the man’s attention, Jean realizes that he is actually dead. She has many humorous phone conversations with people she has never met before at the café and winds up taking the dead man’s cell phone with her. The dead man is named Gordon and is played by Nick Phillips ’11.
Gordon’s cell phone serves as a unique symbol throughout the play as Jean forms a steady relationship with Gordon’s family. Jean tells lots of funny lies to the family, like pretending to be his colleague without knowing what his occupation is, which we come to find out was selling organs on the black market.
Aside from the theme of technology consuming our lives, multiple love stories unfold throughout the play. Gordon’s brother Dwight, played by Michael Maio ’13, is in love with Jean and the two of them think they are in love with each other until Jean meets Gordon in Heaven. Gordon tells Jean that when you go to Heaven you meet up with the one you love most, and Jean has trouble deciding who she loves. Additionally, Gordon’s Mother, played by Kate Hoffman ’14, strives for Gordon’s love and has trouble coping with his death.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a complex work that blends the ordinary with the bizarre, and this production did an excellent job exemplifying the dangers we face when only staying connected through our phones. Out of the many plays I have seen from Theatre Fairfield, this one was one of my favorites. All of the hard work that goes into these plays really showed in Dead Man’s Cell Phone.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nick Phillips after the play and asked him a few questions.
What was it like playing a dead man? Did you have any trouble getting into character?
In the scenes where I had to be dead, I had to stay very still. This was challenging in a physical way, because I had to be able to keep my balance. This is difficult because every time I breathe, it shifts my center of mass! I tried to keep my breathing low in my belly where it would be least visible. I could not scratch if I got itchy and if I felt a need to swallow, I had to wait. The reason I was facing away from the audience in the first scene was actually so they couldn’t see me blink, which was unavoidable. So the main challenge there was physical.
For the scenes where I actually spoke, it was mostly like preparing for any other role.
Do you ever get nervous on stage, or are you pretty used to it by now?
Occasionally, but it’s not a big deal. I’m used to being onstage, and I’m fine talking in front of a group of people, especially if I know exactly what I’m going to do. I do, however, get nervous when I do improv onstage, because there’s less certainty involved in that. I would be terrified to sing a solo onstage, because I’m not a good singer.
There seemed to be a large emphasis on the fact that we are always talking on our phones. Was the main message of the play that we should get away from technology?
Probably. The play was pretty explicit about that message. At one point, Dwight says to Jean, “Get rid of the phone. It’s not good for you.” But I don’t think the play is just saying technology is bad. More that communication devices that are supposed to connect us can instead cause us to become disconnected from those we love. This play is really about a bunch of people trying to find love.
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