Review: Stellar cast answers the challenge of ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’

Dwight (Eric Rupp) and Jean (Bridgey Dougherty) share a tender moment in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Spotlight Theatre.

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!” -Sarah Ruhl

By Margie Royal

Spotlight Theatre continues to stage an eclectic assortment of plays. That’s to be commended; so many theaters seem to fall into the trap of always trying to produce plays based on what in past years audiences loved. While theaters naturally have to program seasons audiences will support and will pay to come to see, it’s really exciting to see a theatre stretch themselves, their actors and their audiences and do the unpredictable, and do it well.

Sarah Ruhl’s plays are unpredictable, fluid and challenging to pull off as they need not only skillful actors, but an imaginative set design, staging, lights and sound. Leigh Jacobs, in a fine directing debut, has assembled a stellar cast and crew to make Ruhl’s play magical on the Spotlight stage.

Ruhl always seems to spur her characters into imaginative realms of the unknown. There’s a story, but you follow it into a mist of emotions, words, ideas and dream-like landscapes. Her plays are food for thought and discussion. And what you take from them may not be what your fellow theatre-goers do.

Written in 2007, “Dead Man’s Cellphone” begins in an urban coffee shop. Jean (Bridget Dougherty) is annoyed by the ringing of Gordon’s (John Barker) cell phone. Her annoyance turns to shock as she finds out Gordon is dead. His phone continues to ring and she answers it. The decision will lead her into encounters with his mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (Lauri Jacobs); a stranger (Dana Corvino); his brother, Dwight (Eric Rupp) and his wife, Hermia (Jess Stinson). Ensemble members include: Sally and Jack Gallagher, Adam Young, Ellen Wilson Dilks and Dani Kennedy.

Bridget Dougherty as Jean turns in a terrific performance, moving from timid uncertainty to obsessed determination to ease the pain of Gordon’s loss to the people who were part of his life. She does a great job portraying her character’s quirky mix of passion, vulnerability and idealism. The scenes with Mrs. Gottlieb have a lot of comedy in them and Lauri Jacobs does a fine job portraying the pain of a mother who has lost her son, and Mrs. Gottlieb’s odd nature. Dana Corvino excels as the vamp who instructs Jean on how to carry herself with confidence. Eric Rupp turns in a nice portrayal of sensitive, shy Dwight. Jess Stinson is also marvelous as Hermia, who greets Jean with hostility, and doesn’t seem to feel Gordon’s loss with much grief.

You have to wait until Act II to see Gordon, but John Barker makes the wait worthwhile. His opening monologue reveals who Gordon was and how he made his money. I won’t reveal it except to say John Barker does a fine job creating a very believable — and creepy man…

This isn’t a play for children. There’s some strong language, but the dark comedy and non-conventional storytelling is best enjoyed by adults. Don’t miss it!

The set design team does a nice job creating the play’s many locations – including dream worlds.

Jay Efran’s special effects, Michael Loro’s sound design and Andrew Montemayor’s lighting design also add greatly to the production. The costumes, which are credited to Edith Head, are also well chosen. I’m not sure if Edith is a real person or a tribute to the legendary Hollywood costume designer of the same name. Either way, good job, Edith, and good job Spotlight!

Remaining performances are May 5, 6, 11, 12, & 13, 2017

Evenings at 8 PM – Tickets $15.

Spotlight Theatre  is at 129 Park Ave Swarthmore, PA 19081

For advance tickets and more information, visit  spotlighttheatrepa.org.