‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ is a bell ringer

David Hurst

David Hurst
David Hurst

GROSSMONT COLLEGE — Dead Man’s Cell Phone opened to a capacity crowd on Thursday, Oct. 6.  The comedy written by Sarah Ruhl tells of Gordon (Aaron Duggan) who dies while eating at a café. The ringing of his cell phone bothers fellow patron Jean (Layla Stuckey) so much that she approaches the man with bad intentions only to find out that he had just passed away.

She makes the fateful decision to pick up his phone and goes through hell and back as she becomes intertwined into the lives of Gordon’s loved ones. She takes the audience on a ride, embellishing the good nature of a man she never knew, while filling personal voids in her own life.

The dialogue includes some surprising, and oddly refreshing foul language, that prompted chuckles throughout the audience. Jean, Gordon’s mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (Stephanie Johnson), and wife Hermia (Mari Demasi) in particular show a gift of garbage mouths, going on funny expletive-filled rants. The adult language was well placed as it enhanced the dialogue and was successfully delivered. The audience responded with blushing satisfaction.

Stuckey had the starring role of Jean and she nailed the performance displaying natural chemistry with all the other actors and actresses. She demonstrated a range of emotions, going from good-natured Samaritan to perceived trouble maker. She delivered punch lines with sharp accuracy. Her talent was accentuated during a scene in which she performed a “rewind” that appeared as if she was being controlled by a DVR remote control.

Stephanie Johnson, meanwhile, took complete ownership of the role as Gordon’s off-the-wall mother. She transformed from a 20-year-old student to a 50-year-old mom thanks to outstanding make up and costumes from the production staff that included Esther Skandunas, Marcia Wilcox, Daniel Ludwig, Don Adkins-Fremstad, Brandy Durham, Ryan Deitrich and Brianna Clawson.

Johnson also had a few impressive moments of breaking out in well sung A cappella.

Adrian Brown portrayed Gordon’s brother Dwight,as an awkward guy who benefits from his brothers’ death by scoring with Jean. His dialect and body language combined to paint the perfect picture of a man who’s been beaten down by a lifelong lack of self-confidence. Demasi as Gordon’s wife and Julia Nardin as his widow gave solid, if unspectacular performances, perhaps due to having smaller roles then the others mentioned.

The audience can puzzle over the symbolism of the cell phone as the play progresses. At the beginning of the play, the message is clear that our society has become too dependent on cell phones. However, the cell phone becomes a symbol of Gordon as well as a symbol of how Jean became involved posthumously with his affairs. The first impression is that cell phones are contributing to the downfall of society; however by the end of the play, the phone becomes almost positive.

Director Martin Katz’s return to Grossmont College with this production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a triumph. The actors and actresses under his guidance delivered solid performances and were well supported by an excellent production that left the audience feeling thoroughly entertained.

The intimate on-campus Stagehouse Theatre production utilized both the stage and the stands. While the props were largely confined to tables and chairs, images projected on the back wall of the stage helped carry the action. The scenes seamlessly changed from café, to funeral, to night club, to dining room, to South Africa, all the way to the depths of hell without a hitch thanks to Scene Shop Technician David Weeks did a masterful job supported by the Scenic Construction Crew (Kevin Hoffman, Jessica Manley, Yvette Piscopo, Richard Rossi, Thomas Sargen, and Kyle Swatzell).

The lighting and music accurately set the desired mood for each scene.  Credit belongs to Manny Lopez (Lighting and Sound Technician), Electricians Even Eason, Adam Goolan, Marwan Khaleel, Genesis McCoy, Bambad Navabi, Chris Rodriguez, Sunny Tamp, Light Board Operator Sean Murray and Sound Board Operator Satoe Nagasaka.

A particularly unique flashlight technique occurs during Duggan’s captivating monologue following the 15-minute intermission. The actor successfully used different areas of theatre to bring his dead man character alive. This set the tone for an entertaining, faster-paced second half of the play.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone’s run will continue October 14, 15 and 16.

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Hurst is a student in Media Comm 132.  He may be contacted at [email protected]