Dark comedy examines disconnected humanity
That can't-be-without high-tech device that has become an appendage for most of us is the lead character - though an inanimate one - in Prescott Center for the Arts' Stage Too production of "Dead Man's Cell Phone," which opens Thursday.
The darkly humorous play, written by Sarah Ruhls, begins in a quiet café where a cell phone is ringing incessantly. A diner, Jean (Amber Bosworth), becomes annoyed with the ring, ring, ring, and goes to the table where a man appears to be ignoring his phone. She discovers that he's dead.
What unfolds from that point is a message about today's interactions with each other.
"I call it a play about communication," director Bruce Lanning said. "It's about cell phones, but also countering that is Dwight (Eric Larson) who "loves paper." This character prides himself on "writing it down ... it lasts longer ... he loves the experience of writing ... he enjoys the feel of pen and pencil. We should take more time to communicate."
Jean doesn't own a cell phone but, when she retrieves the deceased gentleman's phone, "it takes over her life," Lanning said. She takes on a secretary's role, answering his calls, and meets up with his dysfunctional family, headed by his mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (Mary Timpany), a bit of a dragon lady.
A few of the actors best describe the characters they play.
Gordon (the deceased gentleman) is played by Michael O'Rear, who notes technical changes are so fast in today's world that people are encountering things they didn't think they would. Though Gordon "is morally dysfunctional in a lot of ways, I think we see from the start to the end the evolution of his character. He softens toward the end. He discovers things about himself that bring these changes about."
"Dead Man's Cell Phone" is "a search for humanity, which we've lost with our technology," O'Rear said. "The more we appear to be connected because of technology, in a way we are more disconnected with our humanity."
Timpany said the play made her "think about Gloria Swanson in 'Hollywood Boulevard.'"
"She was someone who seemed nice and sane, well brought-up, but she had a contempt for contemporary social practice. She was living in the past."
Bosworth found her role as naïve Jean "very challenging," as "I am usually flamboyant and very loud as a person." She said Lanning coached her to "dial it down," to play Jean as a "character who is giving, and lets people walk on her so she can feel accepted."
This is the kind of thought-provoking play is indicative of the fare that will be presented at Stage Too, PCA Executive Director Jon Meyer said. "It's challenging. There's nothing like it in town."
"Dead Man's Cell Phone" runs this Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Nov. 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 and are available at the PCA box office by calling 445-3286 or online at www.pca-az.net.
To find Stage Too, enter the alley between PCA and the merchants on Cortez Street between Willis and Sheldon. Stage Too is on the south end of the alley near the Peregrine Book Company.