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Dead Man's Cell Phone - Good Reception
Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Dead Man’s Cell Phone opens in a cafe with the cell phone of a lifeless patron incessantly ringing. A female patron, Jean, gets fed up with the noise, answers the phone, and gets sucked into the deceased man’s world. According to Jeffrey Allen, who is directing the Fairfield University production of the play, Jean then “transforms this world and makes it a different place.”

The play, which was written by Sarah Ruhl in 2007, features quite a bit of dark humor. Casey Grambo, who plays Jean, describes the humor, saying “there are moments when awful people are very funny, but they’re still awful people.” Allen adds “most comedy that we really appreciate is from putting people in bizarre circumstances, and this play opens with a woman picking up somebody else’s telephone. Each of the situations that she finds herself in as a result are increasingly more absurd in their own way.”

One bizarre circumstance for the student-actors was finding out they were to be active in the creation of the entire show. Allen wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think it’s a strange concept in the performing arts, in theatre particularly, to say to a group of creative people, here are the clothes you’re going to wear, here is the place you’re going to stand, here is how you’re going to say this line. I’m much more interested in, we’re all in this room together, so what are we going to bring to the table? A wiser director than I once said ‘explore every idea, no matter how absurd, just explore it, see where it takes you.’”

Grace Janiszewski, who is a “theatrical ninja,” playing multiple roles, remembers “at first we were like, where is he going? Then after a while we were like, OK, let’s just think up some stuff, and we’d show it to him, and he’d be like, that’s all great. Then we would do it again.” For Michael Maio, who plays Dwight, the process gave him more of a connection to the play. “You invest so much into it besides just learning your lines,” he explains, “you have a say in what the final product looks like, which is so unique.”

Because Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a relatively new play, the student-actors are even getting to mold the characters. Grambo points out “there’s no stereotypical Jean. There’s no stereotypical Dwight.” There is one rule, however, that Allen feels needs to be observed; “At the end of the day, everything has to serve the story.”

The story, at its core, is about the way people connect. According to Janiszewski “it really pinpoints the relationships that we have these days and how they are through technology. I think it’s hinting that this is what we’re becoming, machines talking to each other instead of people.” Allen adds “something like a cell phone creates that false sensibility that I am so important. I think it’s a great reminder, doing this play, that no, what’s important is human interaction.”

Performances are at the PepsiCo Theatre, Tuesday through Friday, April 12-15 at 8:00 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17.

Tickets are $12 general admission, $6 for seniors and University staff, and $5 for students. To order, call the Quick Center Box Office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396.

This Theatre Fairfield event is an Arts & Minds presentation.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:32 AM  
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