Dead Man’s Cell Phone resurrects the lost art of taking other people’s messages | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Dead Man’s Cell Phone resurrects the lost art of taking other people’s messages

The Comrades' production of Sarah Ruhl's play strikes a balance between ordinary and uncanny.


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Gordon's cell phone has a cheerful ring, light and lilting, not the ringtone of a man you take seriously. Still, it cuts through the air with the disarming insistence of an ice cream truck, or maybe only an ice cream pushcart, and Jean, the woman next to him in the cafe, at last picks up. Jean is a polite woman. Gordon is dead.

Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone explores what happens to love and loss when the previously discrete variables of presence and absence are muddled by our common technology. "You'll never walk alone," says Gordon's mother. "Because you'll always have a machine in your pants that might ring."

Ruhl writes like a lucid dream: attentive to the way dialogues become monologues as the distance between speakers tends toward infinity, nostalgic for the lost art of taking other people's messages, handy with peculiarly apt comparisons ("You're like a very small casserole"). Jean continues to pick up for Gordon, discovering his life in fragments of missed conversation.

The Comrades' production, directed by Arianna Soloway, strikes the ideal balance between ordinary and uncanny that this play requires. Cydney Moody is delicately sympathetic as Jean in a grown-up Wonderland. Caroline Latta is batty and outsize as Gordon's mother, Lynette Li a loose cannon of a wound-up woman as Hermia, Gordon's wife. Bryan Breau makes the most of his momentary manifestation as Gordon. And the cell-phone ballet of Ruhl's script is indicated throughout, the familiar transition of transmission made strangely wonderful.   v

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