Theater Review: "Dead Man’s Cell Phone"

J-Town Playhouse, Directed by Raphael Poch, AACI, Jerusalem

The Cast of ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Cast of ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The audience was still milling around as two actors took their seats on stage. One of them promptly died. The other, completely oblivious to both the death of the first and the chattering audience, went on eating her soup. Her poise, picturesque, seemed to have emanated from the painting of an early 20th century American realist, in spite of the trashy novel that she was reading, and the play hadn’t even begun yet.
Over the next hour and 40 minutes, the audience would be regaled with a story that took drastic jumps and odd turns while being heavily flavored with a good amount of humor. Upon exiting the theater at the end of the performance one audience member was overheard saying, “I have a headache from laughing so much.” Other comments included, “That play was so strange, it was so wonderfully strange,” as well as “the play gave me a lot to think about, but it was hard to think amid all the laughing.”
That more or less was the theme of the evening – a good, long laugh at the miscues and misfortunes experienced by the main character, Jean (played by the talented Noa Maron), as she pilfered the cell phone of the dead man (wonderfully executed by Ricky Fleischer) in the cafe just following the rise of the proverbial curtain. (There is actually no curtain, and only minimalistic sets, in this black-box style presentation.) Jean then proceeds to undergo a loopy odyssey into the lives of others who she meets as a result of answering the incoming phone calls.
Jean does not stop playing the dead man’s social secretary.
Marom played her character effortlessly, showing a great deal of talent in managing to nail the very fine line between dark comedy and farce. With an almost bashful innocence, her character picks up the phone of the deceased and begins telling lies to his family (played by Andrea Katz, Leah Stern, and Yisrael Cohen) and his mistress (played by Maya Tapiero), in order to make the deceased seem like a better person than he was, and as a result gets into all sorts of hijinks.
Upon finally meeting the dead character of Fleischer in a very odd “sort of heaven,” the characters of Marom and Fleischer give a very lengthy impromptu dialogue as to the nature of love and how it affects the afterlife.
The performance was very high energy and jam-packed with laughs. People of all ages (above 16, as the show does include some foul language, but all in good taste) enjoyed the show and had hearty laughs. Even the soundtrack spoke to all ages, being rife with songs from Leonard Cohen, Lindsey Stirling and Lady Antebellum, as well as a healthy dose of film noir-style music which only added to the performance. The performance also included a “dream ballet sequence” which, while seeming odd at the time, was beautifully choreographed by (actress and dance teacher) Leah Stern.
The script, a Sarah Ruhl masterpiece, is the ninth she has authored since 2001, and won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play in 2007 just after opening in Washington, DC, before heading to “off-broadway” for a stint in New York, in 2008. This performance is the Israeli premier of the play.
The play explores the paradox of modern technology’s ability to both unite and isolate people in the digital age, and exposes the audience to quite a deal of social critique and well-thought-out argument both in favor of and against the advance of the modern technological marvel and commonplace gadget that you are supposed to turn off when the lights dim in the theater. In typical Ruhl style, the play blends the mundane and the metaphysical, as well as the bizarre and the bizarrely moving. It negotiates the area between the everyday and the spiritual, and forces its characters to talk like goofballs one minute and philosophers the next. A feat that all six of the actors pulled off marvelously.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone is running at the AACI in Jerusalem until December 13. For more information call (02) 566-1181 or