What if you came across a dead man, took his cell phone, and answered it?
What if you then met his mother, his widow, his brother and his mistress and tried to comfort them in their loss? That’s what the lead character does in the play “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” opening Sept. 25 at the WVU Creative Arts Center.
One woman’s attempts to forge real connections in an electronically linked world lead to quirky romance and fanciful adventure in this 2007 dark comedy by New York playwright Sarah Ruhl.
Directed by Theatre professor James Dylan Held, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” opens Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Gladys G. Davis Theatre. There will be performances Sept. 28-Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. as well as a matinees Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 at 2 p.m.
“This is a play about people trying to make connections and even fall in love in a world now inhabited by billions of cell phones and other electronic devices that none of us can seem to live without,” said Held.
“Recently, the New York Times reported that more than 200 million Americans own at least one cell phone. Seemingly every single one of my students have them and can’t sit through a 50-minute class without sneaking looks at their tiny screens! Where will this technology take us?
“The world of the play is not realistic. The first half seems quite real_ the dialogue and situations more or less normal_ that is, if you consider answering a dead man’s cell phone ‘normal.’
“By the time we get into the second act, the play takes a metaphysical or even absurdist turn,” Held said. “We visit a ‘pipeline,’ that might be Limbo or Hell or an Edward Hopper painting and in which we have to face uncomfortable truths.
“Why did we tell those lies? Who are we really in love with? What is the nature of love? What is the nature of our connections with other people?”
The set of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is meant to suggest this electronic world, echoing the cell phone design, with “electronic” lines on the floor connecting us to somewhere else. Projections of details of Edward Hopper paintings adorn each scene.
Hopper painted many pictures of one or two people in lonely rooms, not doing anything much except looking pensively off into the distance. Or sometimes they were alone in a city or a theater, drugstore or diner. These are people wanting connections, but they have no idea how to make them.
Playwright Sarah Ruhl is a relatively young new voice on the American stage. Her work has been produced on Broadway and in the premiere regional theaters of the United States, including Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, the Yale Rep, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Arena Stage and many others.
Her plays include “The Clean House” (2004), “Passion Play” (2005), “Eurydice” (2006), and “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” which debuted at New York’s Playwrights Horizon in 2008.
Ruhl studied with the fabled Paula Vogel at Brown University where she earned her MFA in 2001. In September 2006, at the age of 32, she received the prestigious MacArthur “genius” Fellowship.
Her newest play, “In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play,” premiered at Berkeley Rep in February 2009 and opened in New York the following October.
“Sit back and enjoy the journey with our talented cast and designers,” Held says to those planning to attend the play. “Oh, and by the way, please turn off your cell phones!”
The cast of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” features WVU Theatre students Greg Jernigan as the dead man, Gordon; Audrey Ahern as the main character, Jean; Branden Chowen as Dwight; Sarah Hauserman as Mrs. Gottleib; Amy Byrne as Hermia; and Sara Lemanski as another woman and as a stranger.
Scene design is by Theatre design student Amanda Lawson, costumes are by student Micah Patton, and the lighting designer is student Dean Wright. Sound design is by faculty member Alan McEwen, and the properties designer is faculty member Robert Klingelhoeffer.
For tickets or more information, call the Mountainlair or CAC Box Offices at (304) 293-SHOW. Special ticket prices are available for groups of ten or more.
For more information, visit the WVU Division of Theatre and Dance on the Internet at: http://theatre.wvu.edu.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
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