Solid last production, plot ‘phones’ it in
| Jay Benedict reporter |
“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is the final production the Grubbs Studio Theater will hold. Strangely, its final show also features something the theater has never seen before.
Local band Deadeye scored the play and performs the songs, as well as the sound effects, live. It adds something special to the experience. That’s a good thing because without this gimmick the play might have trouble standing on its own.
At their cores, plays or any entertainment production seek to accomplish a goal. Plays are comedic for enjoyment, tragic and take the audience on a dramatic journey. They have a motive. Sometimes that motive is simply artistic and other times it’s to make a point.
It’s hard to tell what “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is trying to do. Part of it draws laughs, yet it feels like it’s trying to be dramatic, as if it’s trying to be a commentary on our dependence on technology. And then, it becomes a morality play. Throw in the live band and it’s a lot to take in.
The main character, Jean (Breezi Hancock), picks up a dead man’s cell phone in a cafe because it won’t stop ringing and starts taking his calls. This leads her down a rabbit hole with no way out. Soon, she’s meeting with lovers and family members and making up stories to comfort them in their loss. She’s telling them nice, comforting things about a bad man she never met.
She briefly falls for the dead man’s brother, Dwight (Logan Qualls) and sort of gets mixed up in an international organ-smuggling ring. Eventually, the dead man’s phone almost leads her to her own demise.
The play’s liveliest parts are when its namesake “Gordon” (Austin VanBecelaere) is on screen. He delivers a powerhouse soliloquy just after intermission. His scene later in the play is also strong.
Megan Reed plays Mrs. Gottlieb, Gordon’s mother. The character is definitely over-the-top and that’s the way she plays it. Catie Almond’s Hermia pulls off the grieving/scorned widow well. Hancock and Qualls play well off each other, too.
Deadeye’s compositions are light, folky and catchy. The opening number is one of the best. Folk/red dirt country fans might recognize it as reminiscent of The Damn Quails’ “Fool’s Gold.” Watching the band perform its songs and create the sound effects adds something special to the performance.
The acoustic setting fits the mood and is a better sound for the band. Lead vocalist Megan McCoy tends to over exert during part of other live performances and reins it in here except for the song following intermission.
The technical elements are pulled off well and the presentation is fun to watch. The glaring issue is the play itself. The premise is simple enough, but playwright Sarah Ruhl’s script is overly complicated and confusing. The characters are dragged back and forth through the convoluted story without much of an explanation for their motivations, and the denouement is abrupt and unsatisfying.
Director Cynthia Allan surely saw something in this play that enticed her to bring it to Pitt State. Maybe others will see it, too. Fortunately, the biggest issue with the production comes from outside the university.
The cast does well, the production is solid and the live music adds life to a stiff of a script.