Way back in January this year I ordered my usual 3-play mini subscription for the Melbourne Theatre Company. As July rolled around, I realised that I had tickets to see Dead Man’s Cell Phone….and I had no idea why. The blurb for the play stated:
“A surrealist fantasy. Dancing out of the light-footed imagination of Sarah Ruhl, Dead Man’s Cell Phone traces one woman’s accidental quest to make a few people feel just a little bit better about themselves.”
Surrealist. Fantasy. Two genres of theatre of which I’m not particularly fond. And ‘making people feel a little bit better about themselves’ sounded twee and contrived.
Anyway, tickets had been bought, the date had been fixed, so RM and I trooped along with relatively low expectations.
The story begins with Jean (Lisa McCune), a lonely woman sitting in a cafe who becomes embroiled in the life of a dead man whose mobile phone she answers. She seeks out his mistress, his wife, his mother and brother and tries to bring them all comfort and final words while untangling the lies of his life.
Was the play supposed to be a meditation on life, death, family and the way we’ve lost the ability to connect to other people on a human level due to technology? Hard to say as I found the text generally lacked focus. I also didn’t like the slow pace, the loose prose and mostly the switching from magic realism to film noir to slapstick. I did like the laundromat set design and the cast’s general performance.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone was neither funny nor dramatic nor exciting nor excruciating. If you already have tickets for it, then go ahead and see it and you may have a pleasant, though relatively forgettable, theatre experience. If you don’t have tickets, then I’d say don’t bother spending $65 and 2 hours on this play.