Hindi Greenberg: ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ humorously skewers technology | TheUnion.com

Hindi Greenberg: ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ humorously skewers technology

Lyra Dominguez and Wendy Willoughby in the Sierra Stages production of Sarah Ruhl’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” playing now through Oct. 16 at the Off Center Stage in Grass Valley. Tickets and information at www.SierraStages.org.
Photo by David Wong |


What: Sierra Stages presents “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.”

When: now through Oct. 16

Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m.

Sundays (Oct. 16) at 2 PM

Where: Off Center Stage, 315 Richardson Street, Grass Valley

Information: http://www.SierraStages.org


Can dead men talk? Does technology make us more connected but increasingly out of touch with each other? How great is the difference between perception and reality? Are there really laundromats in heaven? These are some of the themes and topics humorously but meaningfully addressed in Sierra Stages’ well-done romantic and surreal comedy/drama, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” After watching this play, you will truly notice each time you hear a cell phone ring.

In June 2007, the world premier of playwright Sarah Ruhl’s play, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” opened in Washington, D.C. and was nominated for seven Helen Hayes Awards. It premiered Off-Broadway in March 2008.

The play deals with the paradox of modern technology’s ability to both unite and isolate people; to bind us to others, yet put an electronic barrier between us. Jean is a timid, awkward woman who answers the incessantly ringing cell phone of a stranger sitting at the next table in a cafe. She quickly realizes that he didn’t answer it because he is dead. But Jean continues to answer his phone and proceeds to insinuate herself into the lives of his friends and family by passing on invented messages of what he’d felt and said, to help them cope with his death. She initially finds a transitory fulfillment granting the wishes of these people. But she later finds a truer, richer happiness by giving up her obsession with the dead man, who she never really knew, to open herself up to the reality of an authentic relationship.

All of the above sounds rather weighty, but the dialogue and story are often humorous, eventually moving into the surreal. Director Sharon Winegar, having chosen both ever-changing backdrop visuals and appropriate music, keeps her actors weaving and dodging in interesting, clever and often laugh-out-loud interactions. The creative skills of both Scenic & Lighting Designer Tim Dugan and Sound Designers Winegar and Eric Foote contribute greatly to the visceral and cerebral effect of the story. And Paulette Gilbert’s costumes precisely illuminate the personality of each character.

Lyra Dominguez wonderfully portrays Jean as a wide-eyed naïf, who can ricochet quickly from timid to aggressive and who finally realizes that life is for the living. The dead man, Gordon, who isn’t the good guy that Jean imagines, is suavely played by Jonathan Hansard. Sharon Winegar imparts vibrancy to Gordon’s mother, an over-wrought, hard-drinking woman. Paulette Gilbert’s drunk scene as Gordon’s widow is, in itself, worth the price of a ticket. Dwight, who is Gordon’s younger and less sophisticated brother and the love interest of Jean, is sweetly played by Chase Coney. And Wendy Abas Willoughby, as both Gordon’s “other woman” and “the stranger,” has some of the funnier lines/scenes in the play.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is a funny, strange, thoughtful and, at times, surreal romp through human relationships and the digital disconnect. Note that there is strong language, but often used in very funny rants. Go see it at the Off Center Stage in Grass Valley only through Oct. 16.

Hindi Greenberg doesn’t have a SmartPhone, only a StupidPhone, which she keeps turned off in her purse, for use only in emergencies. She doesn’t want to be bothered with hundreds of calls or texts

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