Christina Catechis plays Jean and Jake Wentlent portrays Gordon in the Theatre Department's production of "Dead Man's Cell Phone."
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Theatre Department rings in semester with ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’Tweet
Should you answer someone’s ringing phone?
For assistant professor of theatre Elizabeth Mozer, the question is deeper than it seems on the surface.
“I feel that the question has so many different metaphors to it,” she said. “If something presents itself, do you automatically take that opportunity because it is offered? Or do you consider what the ripple effects could be?”
Technology and communication – along with its opportunities and aftermaths – are at the heart of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” which will be presented by the Theatre Department at 8 p.m. March 8-9 and 15-16, and at 2 p.m. March 17, in Watters Theater. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8, students ($5 until 5:30 p.m. on opening night), and can be purchased at 777-ARTS or online.
Written by Sarah Ruhl in 2007, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” begins with a woman named Jean who wants to silence the ringing cell phone of a fellow café patron. She approaches the stranger, only to discover he has died. Jean decides to answer the phone – and keep the device. She then embarks on a journey in which she becomes dialed into the lives of those who knew the dead man, Gordon.
“Jean enjoys this technology because it connects her to someone who she never really met,” Mozer said. “The cell phone is a channel for her to communicate and it opens many doors for her to other relationships. It opens a new world for her.”
But Jean becomes too dependent on the cell phone in this “new world,” as the device blocks her ability to take relationships to a higher level. She also becomes something of a storyteller in her discussions about Gordon’s life. Ruhl refers to Jean’s actions as “confabulations” instead of “lies,” Mozer said.
“I never felt like Jean was a liar or devious,” Mozer said. “I never experienced her character in that way at all. As a director, I have a positive attitude toward Jean.”
Christina Catechis has the task of interpreting Jean’s character.
“There is a lot of opportunity to perceive Jean as someone who is naïve or someone who longs for embrace,” she said. “I think Jean has the innate ability to connect people. … Jean is connected to a cell phone at all times, but she leaves an impact on others in a way that they have never had a connection with anyone else before.”
Those connections are often missing in today’s ever-changing technological world, Catechis added.
“It’s something that’s been pushed aside by social networking,” she said. “People have become accustomed to engaging in lingo such as ‘What’s up?’ They are phrases that don’t go beneath the surface because that’s the etiquette of communication through devices.”
Mozer, who is making her University directorial debut, said there were many factors that drew her to “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.”
“It’s more of a bare-bones play that doesn’t spell everything out for you,” said Mozer, who has appeared on the Broadway stage and has been featured in dozens of TV commercials. “It’s contemporary and there is an economy of language. I love the fact that it takes the extraordinary and the ordinary and couples them together.”
Ruhl’s writing style also appealed to Mozer and the cast.
“It’s modern poetry,” Mozer said. “It’s elegant, clean, economic and lifts us up to a theatrical space.”
“I feel like every word she has used is there for a reason,” said Jacobella Luongo, who plays the dead man’s “other woman.”
Mozer took her experiences on the stage as both an actor and director and stressed the importance of collaboration.
“I try to instill in (the cast and crew) that they are capable of meeting all the demands of the work – artistically and technically,” she said. “I truly believe that. It takes a lot of pressure off me when I have total faith in my actors. It makes for a less tense rehearsal period!”
The “collaboration of minds” has been “an incredible experience” for Catechis.
“As experienced and smart as Elizabeth is, she still values my impulses and what I can offer to the show at 21 years of age,” Catechis said. “It’s worldly, because there is so much value to everyone’s personas. It’s an all-around collaboration.”
Catechis and Luongo would like audience members to leave the show with newfound appreciation for personal connections.
“I feel sometimes that it’s almost scorned upon to take your time with a person anymore,” Catechis said. “I hope people can invest in interactions.”
“I hope that through seeing Jean’s journey and what she goes through that people will want to appreciate connections with others as opposed to keeping them at an arm’s distance,” Luongo said.
For Mozer, the theater is the perfect venue for a life lesson learned.
“I believe in theater itself as a medium for personal growth of participants and viewers,” she said. “Theater gives us something that film and television cannot give us – that communal experience. It can be a place for learning in an artistic way. It is very powerful.”