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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Playwrights Horizons

By Sandy MacDonald

  Mary-Louise Parker/PH:Joan Marcus

The ancient cultures pretty much wrapped up the creation-myth beat it's up to modern playwrights to keep devising tales to help us deal with the prospect of an afterlife. Sarah Ruhl's latest , Dead Man's Cell Phone, is a doozy. The tendency toward whimsy that threatened to topple The Clean House is here kept nicely in check, thanks in large part to the rigorously restrained performance of Mary Louise Parker as Jean, the self-anointed keeper of the titular device. Jean is a mousy, near-affectless late-thirties child-woman who comes into her own when she discovers a dead body - with ringing appendage - across from her in a cafe. Jean proves, in extremis, a born romantic and gifted liar. Solicitously fielding the dead man's incoming calls and arranging to meet the survivors, she seems to know just what to say to each in turn: the deceased's vain and vapid widow (Kelly Maurer), a self-assuredly sensuous other woman (hilarious Carla Harting, sporting a Russian eccent ) his meat-loving, fur-brandishing gorgon of a mother (Kathleen Chalfant ) and his also-ran schlub of a younger brother (David Aaron Baker ). Ultimately, in a leap of imaginative scripting, Jean even interacts with the dead man himself (T. Ryder Smith, whose classically villainous, chiseled face too readily reveals Gordon's hitherto hidden dark side: Bill Camp, originally cast in the role, would have been more intriguingly ambiguous). Still, all the performances are staggering, Anne Bogart's staging is swift and ingenious, and if you think you've already heard every conceivable stand-up joke regarding the various annoyances imposed by the proliferation of cell phones, be prepared to think again - on a more cosmic level.


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