You’re sitting in a café, quietly finishing your lobster bisque, when a cell phone nearby begins to ring. It rings and rings and rings some more. It belongs to the man seated at another table. He isn’t answering. He isn’t breathing, either.
What happens next is the spark that lights the eccentric comedy Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a play by Sarah Ruhl (Eurydice, The Next Room) getting its San Diego premiere courtesy of the always inventive Moxie Theatre. With its crafty metaphors, snippets of dialogue that verge on non-sequiturs and an unpredictable story that flits from a little café to the Johannesburg airport to a seeming afterlife, Dead Man’s Cell Phone possesses the vexing yet entertaining twists and turns of a “Twilight Zone” episode for the 21st-century romantic.
At the core of the twisting and turning is Jean, the disconnected woman who answers dead man Gordon’s phone and subsequently discovers connection to herself and her desires. Jo Anne Glover is eminently likable and sympathetic as Jean, who can’t help becoming immersed in the lives of Gordon’s survivors – his sweet but square brother Dwight (Jonathan Sachs), his hilariously hostile mother (Kathryn Herbruck), and his ex-wife Hermia (Lisel Gorell-Getz), a (SIGHT GAG SPOILER ALERT!) onetime ice-skating star who now does figure-eights around martinis. Under the direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, the ensemble (also including Yolanda Franklin and Matt Thompson as the dead man who has a lot to say) is true blue to Ruhl’s edgy commentary on love, lies and technology. The laughs aren’t easy. You say you want easy? Sorry, wrong number.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.