Lonely spinster Jean overhears a cell phone ringing in a cafe. When its owner seems disinclined to answer it (because he’s, you know, dead), Jean picks up instead. Thus begins Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, presented by Wasatch Theater Company.
The play is a charming and heartfelt piece that tackles its themes with quirky aplomb: the difficulties of intimacy in a world of technology, the inability to connect to the people right in front of us, and how much we invent ourselves and each other. Jean (played to perfection by Michelle Linn Hall) is an isolated woman, and she finds connection through dead man Gordon (Kent Hadfield) and his grieving family (and mistress).
Hall is the true standout of the show, a committed actor whose performance is so authentic and guileless that it is impossible not to like her right off the bat. Hall’s elfin, dreamy little face is incredibly animated (one audience member behind me whispered loudly “oh, she’s so cute!” at the beginning of the show), and she lends Jean every ounce of humor and heartbreak that the character could require.
Hall may take the lead in every way, but that is not to disparage the rest of the fantastic cast. The talent level is astronomical. In particular, Sallie Cooper as Gordon’s mourning mother, Mrs. Gottlieb, is a jolt of pure funny every time she steps onstage, startling the audience into guffaws almost every time she opens her mouth.
Each actor finds the humor and the pathos with ease, and the cast feels like a tight-knit team (kudos to director Brian Pilling for his wonderful casting). The show seems to lose a bit of direction near the end, taking an unexpected turn that feels a bit too surreal for the established plot, but the actors take to it with aplomb. Despite the loud music from the dance studio next door (which seems to be a continual hazard at the Rose Wagner), the show is a well-paced, funny, and worthwhile night at the theater.
“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is playing in the Studio Theater at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Thursdays through Saturdays, May 6 – 22. The show begins at 8 p.m., with Saturday matinees on May 15 and 22 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.arttix.org, at all ArtTix ticket office locations, or by calling (801) 355-ARTS.