Monday, February 2, 2015

Dead Man’s Cell Phone—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Body Parts

This dark comedy by Sarah Ruhl is being performed at Artist Rep.’s space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  It is directed by Adriana Baer (Profile’s Artistic Director) and plays through February 15th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

If you want to know what I really think about this new electronic age, I could get on a soap box for hours, pointing out the dangers of the many mechanized mediums we entrust ourselves to.  But what Ruhl does in this play expounds on that, and is much more poetic and darkly comic and, in the end, moving, than anything I could have come up with.

Imagine yourself almost alone in a diner, like Jean (Dana Millican) in this play, trying to concentrate on writing, when an annoying cell phone continually and annoyingly rings.  And the customer, Gordon (Don Kenneth Mason), is unwilling (or, in this case, unable) to answer it.  What happens if you answer that Cell…what can of worms will that open?  In this case Ruhl expands that issue to the nth degree, even crossing over into the existential at times, but always with a dark, poetic humor.  It’s as if her characters want to shout, I am here but nobody notices.

After Jean discovers that Gordon is dead, she takes it upon herself to answer his calls, failing to inform them that he has died.  In fact, her life seems so insignificant to her, that she decides to insert herself into his life, making up stories about him and when, she finally admits to others of his passing, she boldly informs them of messages he had for them, without really knowing anything about these acquaintances of his or his business.

She presents herself as a co-worker of his and thus meets his overbearing mother (Patricia Hunter), his shy brother, Dwight (Mason, again) and Gordon’s eccentric wife, Hermia (Dana Green).  This family gives a new meaning to the word “dysfunctional.”  She also meets up with his mistress, a vixen named, Carlotta (Green, again).  And, not really knowing of the true nature of his business, meets up with a Russian agent (also, Green) and discovers more vital clues as to who Gordon really was.

Needless to say, I can’t reveal too much more without giving away secrets to the plot.  But, suffice to say, a person needs love and to love, in order to go forward in life.  This will become clear as the story unfolds.  An added clever level to the production of this play, are the three actors who do the set changes (Jonathan Hernandez, Shawna Holt and Jake Turner).  They do it with stylized movement, like dance, and become a part of the play. Whether in the script, or an invention of the very talented director, Baer, it is a welcome change to the normally, pretty pedestrian, mechanics of such operations.

This production is a surreal, almost dreamlike presentation, having one foot on the ground, perhaps, but another ensconced lovingly in a world of its own.  Baer is responsible, I’m sure, for having such a keen insight into Ruhl’s world and knowing how to present it.  And her cast seems to be spot on in their interpretations of this rather bizarre space in time.

Millican, as I’ve noted before in reviews of shows she’s in, is always a pleasure to watch.  She keeps you guessing all the time as to her motives and decisions as to what her character does.  An original creation.  Mason is good in the dual roles, letting us see an ordinary man in some extraordinary circumstances.  Hunter is a gem, playing the autocratic head of the family with delicious glee.  And Green, in the three roles she plays, is astounding.  All three are totally different portrayals and, if I wouldn’t have known they were all the same person, I would have thought they were different actors.  A real tribute to her talent.

I recommend this play.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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