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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Review of Barter Theatre's 'Dead Man's Cell Phone'

It's Time to Hang Up and Laugh


*** Published: March 5, 2010 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

Okay, so you're sitting in a little café minding your own business when you gradually come to realize that the man at the next table, the café's only other occupant, is sitting bolt upright, as dead as the lentils in his rapidly coagulating bowl of soup – and his cell phone is ringing insistently.

What to do? What to do?

You answer it, of course.

Thus begins a sometimes poignant, often hilarious and always intriguing glance into what it means to be lonely in a world where everyone seems to be connected but few really are, what it is that passes for love in a confusingly digitized universe and how we don't necessarily flop over dead like a pole-axed walrus, but instead just gradually fade away as fewer and fewer people ring our number.

To paraphrase the slogan for my favorite brand of seedless blackberry preserves, with a name like "Dead Man's Cell Phone," the Barter Stage II's latest production has got to be good – and it is. Delightfully and juicily so. With plenty of crunchy seeds.

Ashley Campos plays Jean, the girl who answers the ringing cell phone, and although I have praised her past performances, none yet has equaled this one. In fact, she is so good here that one quickly forgets that she is everything but frazzled and confused.

Instead of simply telling callers such as the dead man's wife, mistress, mother, brother and conspirators in his illegal trade in human body parts that he is dead, she, for reasons that she herself couldn't possibly understand, begins relating to them what they want to hear. Naturally, this leads to complications that are at once hilarious and thought-provoking.

Mary Lucy Bivens is perfect as the maybe-distraught, maybe-not mother, while Nicholas Piper is equally convincing as Dwight, the brother, whose life revolves around die-stamped stationery.

Hermia, played by Amy Baldwin, is the dead man's anything-but-grieving, sexually-starved widow and Hannah Ingram is the other woman – who apparently is not, sexually-starved, that is.

And, oh yes, the dead man, Gordon, is nicely portrayed by our old buddy Michael Poisson who has appeared on the Barter's stages as everything from Captain Hook to buck naked and he does "dead" quite deliciously. And, yes, he does have lines – quite a few of them, in fact, especially for someone pushing up the petunias.

The whole shebang is flawlessly directed by Katy Brown with her trademark smoothness and spot-on timing. Also, kudos to Sean Campos who choreographed the fight scene even if he probably didn't intend it to come out so delightfully whacky as it does. In Johannesburg, South Africa's airport and over a purloined kidney, no less.

I once heard it said that for a few years after we die there are a few people around who loved us; a few years after that there are a few people who remember us; and only after even they have forgotten are we truly dust. I suppose that the modern equivalent would be when nobody rings our cell phone any more.

Or could it be that death is just nature's way of telling us to "Hang Up and Drive?"

-You can use your own cell phone to call (276) 628-3991 for dates, times and reservations. "Dead Man's Cell Phone" plays for live audiences through April 11.

A! ExtraTopics: Theatre