opening performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl
A fun, snappy script built around a clever premise makes this theater adventure a satisfying romp.
The play is pure entertainment as far as I can figure out. Its send-up of our need for constant communication makes me worry that I am missing Something Deeper. But, if I’ve missed it, I am happy anyway.
The play notes tell us about a “… film-noir odyssey that crisscrosses life and death, isolation and connection, what’s real and what’s not.” Yeah, well, sure. It was mostly fun, though.
The cast is perfect. Their timing of their acts and speeches is flawless. The dialog hand-offs are seamless, and they work well together.
Catherine Coulson steals the show with her flamboyant portrayal of the dead man’s mother. Sassy, funny, bossy and pathetic all at once. Ashland newcomer Sarah Agnew is supposed to be the lead, and she’s wonderful, but the playwright gave Mom the zingers which Coulson eats up and spits out in a toxic spray that covers the stage.
Her costumes are wonderfully jarring, too.
Agnew is light and just right as the keeper of the dead man’s cellphone. She has a large role and is never tiring.
Miriam Laube steals a few scenes of her own in a vampy, slutty, wonderful way. Her physical humor is over-the-top yet horribly correct. Brava!
Brent Hinkley is the oddest looking “normal” character I’ve seen on stage. Pasty, weird shaped mouth, and completely the nerd in looks, speech, and action that is called for in the script.
Terri McMahon, Jeffrey King, and the ensemble actors also entertained perfectly.
The play itself soars with language more than once. It’s not a masterpiece — maybe even just a string of vignettes — but they are well-strung vignettes. Another plus: this second foray into magical realism in two years is just so much better than last year’s indigestible Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner!
On the downside, there’s a tacked-on feeling to the final scene to [spoiler alert] give us a happy ending, though. The performance could have ended in a blackout in the penultimate scene.
This production amuses and made me laugh. I didn’t feel that the world changed, that characters really changed, or that I learned anything. But, I had a good time.