Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dead Man's Cell Phone, Theatre Vertigo (Grade B)

Writer Sarah Ruhl
Director  Buck Skelton
Jean  .....  Kerry Ryan
Gordon  .....  Mario Calcagno
Mother  .....  Jane Fellows
Dwight  .....  Joel Harmon
Hermenia  .....  Heather Lundy Kahl
Gordon's Lover  .....  Jenn Hunter
Ensemble   .....  Clara-Liis Hillier & Nico Marquez

 story outline: woman (Jean) sitting in cafe discovers a man at next table (Gordon) is dead.  She takes over his cell phone and decides--for no particular reason--that she loves the dead guy.  She takes charge of his cell phone and begins to tell anyone who calls lies about how he felt about the caller.  Her lies are meant to make people happy and to think well of Gordon.  The callers include business associates, lovers, his mother etc.  She does this to keep him alive and to make him the good person that she wants to believe he is.  

But he (Gordon) was not such a nice guy. He got rich selling body parts on the international market. He explains his work as a form of helping people.  Meanwhile Jean meets Gordon's brother, Dwight, and they fall in love.  They speculate about love and where do all the contents of cell phone calls go--off into the infinity of the either, etc.  Jean decides to try and help one last customer of Gordon's by delivering a body part to South Africa--and insisting the body parts be given away for love and not sold for $$.  She is dealing with some very shady characters--she get knocked out and has a near death experience--where she meets-up with Gordon on a far away planet.  Luckily she isn't really dead but she returns from this experience to warn other about loving the wrong person.

sez says...there is just the right bit of camp in this production. And what a great play this is. We saw it in Ashland a few years back and while they had a bigger venue and more $$ to spend on props and costumes and staging, Vertigo did a better overall job telling this story. They built up a "Tim Burton type" atmosphere, not dark and morbid but quirky-dark with a touch of vamp-satire.  There are many themes running around it this loony story. The whole thing is played straight but with a cartoon-esq, flat edge. And as we go along we are asks profound and inane questions:  Are Jean's lies better than Gordon's lies?  What are the unimagined and unknowable impact of communications becoming increasingly electronic?   How many kinds of love are there? Who owns the cell phone?

While the production as a whole was on the mark--there were some disappointing aspects.  Most distressing is that the acting was uneven.  Fellows and Ryan held up their ends but esp Calcagno fell off his sharp edge more than once. That is really too bad.  We have seen him do ever so much better and here, in this play, he was cast to type to a T.   He could have done so much more with Gordon.  Maybe Calcagno needs to take a trip to New Jersey and meet a real-life witness protection guy. The kind of fellow who wears Gucci Loafers and gold chains and who is overly aggressive in his presentation of slimy business propositions -- (these guys do exist but they are not so very common in Portland) Such an example might have suggested where he could take this character.  And Kahl was great one moment--and then would drop away and seemed to repeat her lines as if she were still working on memorizing them.  I can only guess that a little more work all around would have lifted this performance onto a substantially higher plane --but even as it, it is fun and worth seeing.  

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