Manhattan College Players Present Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone

by Madalyn JohnsonAsst. A&E Editor

Manhattan College Players performed the play “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” in the Black Box theatre on Thurs. Nov. 7 and throughout the weekend of Nov. 8 to Nov. 10. The production was directed by JR Caldwell and featured Andrea Gorrin Sepulveda as the female protagonist.

The title simply summarizes what the story is revolved around. The protagonist, Jean, recovers a dead man’s, Gordon Gottlieb’s, cell phone and through answering his calls comes across his family and friends, including his mother, widow and brother. Awkwardly interacting with this tight knit group of mourners and continuously lying to them about Gordon’s last remarks, Jean slowly comes to the realization that cell phones have become extremely controlling over society and therefore have strained the emotional connection human beings naturally develop with one another.

Sarah Ruhl is the playwright for “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” and has been praised for a variety of her other plays including “The Clean House” (2004), “Eurydice” (2003) and “In the Next Room” (2009). Ruhl has also received one of the highest honors in playwriting, having two of her works named as finalists for Pulitzer Prize for Drama and having a Tony Award nomination for In the Next Room.

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Along with covering a subject matter that deals with the obsession of the cellular devices in modern society, the play references historical icons in ancient literacy. Greek heroes like Odysseus and Heracles are resembled when Jean takes a journey to hell and back to figure out the reason why Gordon seemed to be selfish, conceited and close-minded. Here Jean is considered the heroine out of all the other characters in the story. Additionally Hell is oddly represented in the play, for Jean meets Gordon in what could possibly be viewed as a holding cell the deceased are kept in before they descend into the afterlife. Simply put, Gordon symbolizes Jean’s Hell and Ruhl transcribes Hell to be a loved one that a person meets when they die.

This theme about finding your loved one and technology ruining those chances ties into Jean’s relationship with Dwight Gottlieb, Gordon’s brother. Towards the end of Act I when Dwight progressively admits to Jean that he loves her, Jean is reluctant to act overjoyed and excited. Instead, after Dwight admits his feelings, the phone rings and Jean eagerly answers to see who is calling.

Senior Peter Martino played the character of Dwight in the Players’ production and describes his character as having this timid persona, overall carrying a personality that results in him being pushed aside by his own mother (especially when his brother passes).

“He loves poetry and he’s a little on the shy side,” Martino said. “He’s also kind of a hopeless romantic. He falls in love with the protagonist, Jean and his and Jean’s relationship really propels both characters towards great personal growth, which ultimately leads to the climax of the show.”

Martino went into specifics about how Jean’s behavior towards Dwight exemplifies this fixation everyone has in their own virtual world.

“Jean can’t give up Gordon’s phone which drives a wedge between her and Dwight. I think that the show asks us to examine the relationships in our lives and determine how real they actually are. Are they physically present in our everyday lives or do they only exist behind a screen?” he said.

Sophomore Maren Kain portrays Gordon’s mother, Mrs. Gottlieb, who is a comical character that Kain describes as being very unwelcoming and unfriendly, terribly miserable about her son’s passing therefore intimidated by Jean’s presence. Kain shared she enjoyed playing Mrs. Gottlieb because she was given the opportunity to humorously berate others in her performance.

“She’s very suspicious of the play’s subject, Jean who acquires Gordon’s cell phone. She’s cold and genuinely mean which is so fun to play, especially when I get to insult some of my real life best friends,” Kain said.

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Kain very much enjoyed acting in one of the last scenes of the show, when Mrs. Gottlieb (lightened by the fact Gordon is waiting for her) decides to enter a fire so she can see him and does so by singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel.

“My favorite scene is when I run off the stage to my death, belting a song from one of my favorite musicals Carousel,” she said.

Kain believes the play literally and figuratively focuses on death and technology’s role in distracting humans from building relations with one another.

“This show is many things but I believe, at its heart, it’s about remembering. We watch as a family mourns the death of a loved one on stage but more generally the death of genuine human interaction. It raises the question, how well do we really know each other in this digitized world we live in and how does that affect the ways in which we remember?” Kain said.

Amongst the audience, many enjoyed the play’s message and actors’ performances. Junior Nicholas Chiofalo praised the actors for their portrayal of these abnormal and interesting characters.

“I think they took the line of absurdity and genuine characters so well,” Chiofalo explained. “They have to perform and act all this weird behavior yet you could still see they were people and that’s what really draws you into the story, what draws you on the crazy concept Dead Man’s Cell Phone proposes.”

Chiofalo  also took note of the lighting, mentioning it was one of the best he’s seen out of all the Players’ productions.

“I’ve been watching Players for about three years now but this is the show where the lighting has shined the most, no pun intended,” he said.

Junior Alfonse Calato loved the play’s crucial message that pays homage to a big issue in modern society and how it was performed comically.

“It was clearly trying to make some kind of commentary on phone culture, how obsessed and dependent on our phones we’ve become, but they found a way to make it work. I also thought it was very funny.”

The assistant directors of this Players’ production were Isabelle Campbell and Aubrey Lefkowitz. Other cast members include Ryan Danahy as Gordon, Jenn Bueti as Hermia and Camryn Kidney as stranger, as well as Matthew Blackwood, Sami Rini, Sophie Ryan and Dean Saccardi as the chorus.

Upcoming events for Manhattan College Players include the Welcome to High School Cabaret on Nov. 21-23, She Kills Monsters on Feb. 7 and 8 and the annual musical, The Addams Family from April 1 to 5.